Photo by Jane Gershovich/Soccer By Ives
BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- The U.S. Men’s National Team started the Gold Cup with a bang, routing an overmatched Belize side and sending a message to the rest of CONCACAF that the Americans are intent on living up to their label as tournament favorites.
Led by Chris Wondolowski’s first-half hat trick, the Americans added second-half goals from Stuart Holden, Michael Orozco-Fiscal, and Landon Donovan on their way to a 6-1 victory in front of 18,724 fans at Jeld-Wen Field. Donovan also notched two assists on the night which made him the first U.S. player to record 50 assists, and the first player in international soccer to reach the 50-goal and 50-assist mark.
Wondolowski earned the start over Herculez Gomez and made the most of it as his first-half hat-trick left Belize with little chance of a monumental upset. The 30-year old called getting the nod to start a “huge honor.”
The reigning MLS Golden Boot winner started the match with his name spelled wrong on his jersey (it was spelled Wondowlowski), but it clearly didn’t bother Wondolowski. Just 12 minutes into the match, Wondolowski made it two straight games with a goal when he pounced on a loose ball for a poacher’s finish. After working his way around the right-side of the Belizean defense, Jose Torres delivered a cross that found a Joe Corona header. After Corona’s header was blocked, Wondolowski found himself unmarked just a few yards from goal.
“The biggest part of our gameplan was to try to get on the board early because that would make them have to try and attack and we could find more space,” Wondolowski said.
Wondolowski wasn’t done as he scored his second and third goals just three minutes apart late in the first half. Both goals came off headers after Wondolowski was able to beat his man to the ball. His third goal was especially important because it came just one minute after Belize scored a shock goal on a free header from Ian Gaynair in the 37th minute.
“It’s just huge to get that victory,” Wondolowski said after the match. “I think it really sets us up for the rest of this tournament and puts us on the right foot.”
Donovan broke through the 50-assist barrier when he found a wide-open Stuart Holden in front of the Belize goal. He later added his 51st career assist, serving in a free kick that was put home by Michael Orozco-Fiscal in the 73rd minute. Donovan capped his performance by scoring a penalty kick goal, his 52nd career international tally, in the 77th minute.
“I thought we started well,” Donovan said after the match. “We’ve seen all the results from the last few days and knew that if we didn’t start right we could be in trouble.
“We’re real happy with the six goals,” Donovan added. “Pretty disappointed with giving up a set piece goal, but we’ll get better and we’re happy with where we’re at.”
Holden came off the bench at halftime, replacing an ineffective Kyle Beckerman, and promptly put his stamp on the match, notching his second career goal and also helping the U.S. better control possession.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made some surprising lineup choices heading into the match, with his move to start Wondolowski over Gomez one of the head-turning maneuvers. Mix Diskerud stepped in for Edgar Castillo and looked solid in central midfield, while Orozco-Fiscal turned in a steady showing at centerback in place of Oguchi Onyewu. Post-match Klinnsman cited Jeld-Wen’s turf as one reason why certain players such as Onyewu and Gomez didn’t get the start.
Despite Belize’s FIFA ranking of 130, the U.S. didn’t overlook the Central American squad, especially after Martinique’s upset of Canada in the Cup’s opening match.
“I think we were all proud of the fact that is was a pretty professional performance,” Holden said. “I don’t think anyone is overexuberant about winning tonight, but it’s time to look to the next one now.”
There were few less-than-stellar performances for the U.S., with Michael Parkhurst joining Beckerman among the players who struggled. Coincidentally, both Parkhurst and Beckerman contributed assists on the night, each helping set up Wondolowski’s goals late in the first half. Giving up a goal to an unmarked player also was not the way the U.S. wanted to concede.
“They had one chance and they scored one goal,” Diskerud said. “That happens. But we had control the whole game forward.”
The match leaves the U.S. atop Gold Cup Group C, tied with Costa Rica on points after the Ticos posted a 3-0 win vs. Cuba earlier on Tuesday night.
“This is a tournament of attrition and fortunately, we have a roster of 23 guys that are all very capable,” Donovan said. “No team can play the same 11 guys for five or six straight games if you get there. So we have a big advantage in that we can rotate and change guys.”
The U.S. team returns to Gold Cup action on Friday with a match against a Cuba side that offered little attacking threat in its loss to Costa Rica.