Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
BALTIMORE- A one-goal lead at halftime made Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. Men’s National Team and El Salvador feel like a more tightly-contested match than most would have expected. The second half, led by an unstoppable Landon Donovan, changed that in dramatic fashion.
The U.S. scored three unanswered goals in the second half, with Donovan scoring a goal and setting up three others, to lead the Americans to a 5-1 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
The mostly pro-El Salvador crowd had hope of a dream upset after a Rodolfo Zelaya penalty kick in the first half made it 2-1 heading into halftime, but the U.S. attack hit a different gear with the insertion of second-half substitute Eddie Johnson, who made it 3-1 just 14 seconds after entering the match.
Donovan and Johnson combined yet again for the fourth U.S. goal, with Donovan racing past the El Salvador defense for his 55th USMNT goal of his career, making him the first player to ever score in six different Gold Cups.
Mix Diskerud provided the final tally, heading home a Donovan cross to secure the victory and send the Americans into Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinals, where they will face the winner of the Honduras-Costa Rica quarterfinal, which is being played on Sunday.
“We’re getting better and better,” said Donovan. “Every game we’re more comfortable with the role we’re in and again, we’re a team that defended well.
“But the difference today was scoring early goals”, Donovan said. They got a questionable goal back, but we still kept going. Our effort was really good and obviously to score five goals.”
The Americans started Sunday’s quarterfinal in strong fashion, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead on goals from Clarence Goodson and Joe Corona, but they were unable to find a third goal in the first half despite dominating possession. Nick Rimando did his part in that strong start, making a pair of jaw-dropping saves in quick succession to keep El Salvador off the scoreboard, at least temporarily.
El Salvador goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo kept El Salvador in the match with some clutch saves, and his teammates responded by drawing a penalty after a DaMarcus Beasley foul in the penalty area. Zelaya struck a Penanka-style penalty to fool Rimando and send the pro-El Salvador crowd into hysterics.
The second half saw El Salvador jump out to a good start, but they couldn’t test Rimando, or put shots on frame, and eventually the Americans began to reassert control.
When Johnson replaced an ineffective Chris Wondolowski in the second half, his speed helped stretch El Salvador’s defense, and he paid immediate dividends by heading home a Donovan cross just seconds after entering the match.
From there, the floodgates opened and the U.S. attack showed the strength that helped it score big-goal routs against Guatemala, Belize and Cuba earlier this month.
“We knew it’s a very tricky opponent and they proved that,” Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They caused us a couple of issues, especially right after halftime. They had opportunities there to tie the game.
“We missed a moment in the first half to kill it off with a third goal before they actually got their penalty, when Joe Corona had a nice opportunity,” Klinsmann said. “And so we had to hang on for a little bit longer. With Eddie Johnson’s goal, the game was over pretty much.”
A much tougher test will await on Wednesday in Arlington, Texas, with the winner of the Honduras-Costa Rica match expected to be a much better opponent. Regardless of who the Americans face, they will remain the clear-cut favorite to win the Gold Cup given the way they, and specifically Donovan, are playing.