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USMNT overcomes rocky start to top El Salvador in Gold Cup quarterfinal

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

It was a match loaded with plenty of shenanigans and rollercoaster moments, but the U.S. Men’s National Team ended up taking care of business against El Salvador in Wednesday night’s Gold Cup quarterfinal.

Behind goals from Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj, the U.S. overcame a difficult start with two goals late in the first half of a 2-0 win over El Salvador. With the win, the USMNT books a date with Costa Rica in the tournament semifinal.

The majority of the first half was rocky for the USMNT, but the tide suddenly shifted in the 41st minute on Gonzalez’s goal. The finish came via a set piece as Michael Bradley put a 35-yard free kick on a platter for Gonzalez to head home for his second goal in as many games.

Just four minutes later, another defender stepped up to fire a goal. Eric Lichaj, who was in the midst of a rough first half performance, broke through the defense to get on the end of a Clint Dempsey pass. The Nottingham Forest defender finished five hole for his first USMNT goal and a 2-0 lead.

The first half was nervy for the USMNT, who looked clearly out of sync within a new-look lineup. Four of the five recent call-ins joined the starting XI while the defense featured Lichaj and Justin Morrow rotated into the fullback positions. Lichaj’s early struggles nearly cost the USMNT an early goal as his back-pass left Tim Howard in a one-on-one situation, but the veteran goalkeeper bailed him out with a sliding save in the fourth minute.

For a majority of the second half, the USMNT controlled play before the hijinks began. Within one set piece sequence, Jozy Altidore was apparently bitten and grabbed by El Salvador defender Henry Romero. The remainder of the half was hotly contested, but neither team broke through for another goal as the USMNT sealed the win.

Following the victory, the USMNT now faces Costa Rica in Phoenix in Saturday’s semifinal.


  1. Also, seeing a lot of Zardes praise. Now he’s never gonna be a guy to help us over the European or SA powers, but he is an absolute handful for most of these CONCACAF teams. There’s a reason I wanted him (and Lichaj…;)…) in this starting 11.

  2. Not saying the backline was good, but it’s hard to give them too much criticism when most of El Salvador’s chances were born out of bad turnovers from the attack, forcing the defense to have to scramble back from advanced positions.

    I don’t recall ES doing much on anything that wasn’t a counter or breakout off a bad turnover.

  3. Well, another day, another underwhelming performance! That was a classic USMNT vs. lesser opponent game, where we come out flat, do not take the game to them enough, get a goal or two and then hang on instead of putting the game away. Here are my thoughts:

    – Timmy was Timmy, saved us in the first ten minutes then was a rock the rest of the way.
    – Hedges was awful, slow and unsure all night. I was rooting for him to do well but he has not shown up enough to get more call ups at this point. Omar was pretty good, better than I have seen him before at being a leader and organizing, although he still has a few moments that make me cringe.
    – Lichaj was poor early, but grew into the game. He was not great at all, but I like his instincts and grit more than the other backup options right now. Morrow was good getting forward but poor getting back to cover which lead to a bunch of attacks.
    – Bradley was good, and looked more confident moving the ball than I have seen him in a few games. Nagbe was good at breaking down the midfield and getting forward, I just wish he would get the ball off his feet and to the guys making runs a little faster. He always wants to make one more move, which frustrates me. I like him more out wide with an overlapping runner.
    – Zardes looked good all game. Strong, fast, and determined to get into the final third and make something happen. He should have had the first goal of the day. Arriola is not good enough for what we need out of a winger on this team, Nagbe should be in that spot.
    – Dempsey was Dempsey, one moment of brilliance in an otherwise off game. The turn and pass was great, but I thought he lost the ball a lot and did not have the service to be the second guy into the box to be effective. Altidore was good at holding up the ball, but did not make or get many good chances at goal. He should have drawn two red cards and a handful of yellows if the ref would have been of any quality at all.

    It is not surprising that the team did not look sharp since Bruce has not played anyone consistently to get a rhythm going. It is kind of a stacked deck if you do not let the guys get comfortable in their roles a little bit in order to look their best, but hey, it is what it is. The ref was horrid, and the El Salvadorian players were as bad as I have seen in a long time. Kudos to Jozy for not losing it on someone, not sure I would have had that kind of restraint in that situation. On to the next one, hope we improve a little bit!

  4. Extremely unfortunate that the El Salvador resorted to those disgraceful antics towards the end of the game. I’m a proud ES/American and seeing our team fail to remove ourselves from negative associations year after year is disappointing.

    Only positives for ES would be that they played well and made it difficult for a US team that is viewed as Gold Cup winner favorites.

    This tournament is always a tryout for MLS for the lower level CONCACAF teams and i believe 2-3 ES players deserve an opportunity.
    Wink.. Wink.. DC United – Rodolfo Zelaya, Alex Larin, and Narciso Orellana

  5. Before this tournament started I figured there were 6 or 7 spots up for grab if they qualify for Russia I don’t think really has changed but what I do think has changed is that more players probably have a chance now because most of the players on these rosters have shown poorly and have opened the door.

  6. Like me if you are commenting on sbi you probably spend way too much time thinking about the USMNT and their opponents. However, even we tend to forget how tough it is to win concacaf games. Yes the competition outside of Mexico, the United States and in the past 4 years Costa Rica is weak, but it is really hard to win concacaf matches.

    Should we expect more from the USMNT even when they are not at full strength with a squad that is constantly being rotated??? Absolutely!!!!!!!!!!!!! But these games are dirty and physical and played on terrible fields and refereed by even worse officials. But 3 points is 3 points.

    2017 is the year for getting 3 points and moving on because i don’t want to imagine not qualifying for the World Cup. Will there be a time in my lifetime where 3 points is not enough and we can realistically demand style along with our substance? Yes there will be, but its not today.

  7. Yes, El Salvador played dirty and the ref was terrible, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that each player on the back line made a horrible mistake that could have resulted in a goal and Lichaj made 2 like that. If we had played like that against Costa Rica we may have lost 4-0 again. The US were no better than a mediocre MLS team. Half the time they were pressured it seemed to result in a turnover. Meanwhile El Salvador handled our pressure with no problem. I’m sure tired of seeing US players failing in basic plays like this. Before the game I said that if they played with as little intensity as they did against Martinique that it could be as close as that game. Fact is, with all the chances we gave ES, we easily could have lost. Very disappointing.

    • Gary, Hedges may have topped Lichaj with poor play. The entire backline was poor and I’m not sure it was lacking a leader to organize or just multiple series of bad decisions?

  8. Zardes looked good. Lichaj was the only above average defender. Nagbe’s ball control and short passing was on many occasions the fulcrum in our midfield. I think we lose some of that when he gets shifted outside. Arriola works hard, but nothing has happened for him yet, despite the minutes Arena gives him. And this is one of the poorer refereed matches.

    • Nagbe is the king of the hockey assist. Once Acosta came on any distribution to the right side disappeared? Although, Nagbe has been nursing a hamstring he is pretty good as a wide player but tends to work towards the middle. The link up between Bradley and Nagbe is pretty good but what really failed was the next link up with Dempsey.
      Zardes did a really nice job keeping width and attacking wide

  9. Just saw the video of the Univision feed where Ceren bit Omar on a corner in the 80th minute. CONCACAF needs to hand out suspensions, which they probably won’t, to both players and the manager. Two different players performing the same malicious infraction on corner kicks, you can’t tell me that the coaching staff didn’t at least condone dirty tactics on set pieces. Also, you understand the ref missing the first one, but after the US players told him what happened, to miss the second is inexcusable.

  10. Zardes is actually pretty good (assuming he continues on this form). He’s especially dangerous 1v1 because of his pace and how aggressive he is. I think if he played in a game alongside Pulisic (who defenses are going to focus on), he’d really stretch the field and help break down defenses. Plus, he hussles like crazy on defense.

  11. This team without Pulisic, FJ, Wood, Cameron, and Brooks is pretty average.

    I thought this was the best Zardes has looked since returning from injury, almost all the attack in the first half came from him and Morrow.

    I thought Nagbe was dangerous when he was attacking but again seemed to take one touch too many most of the night and either had it tackled away or his pass/shot deflected.

    Bradley for me was solid, great cross on the goal, but the rest of his service wasn’t great. Don’t remember any bad give aways, but little of the attack came from the middle of the park.

    I didn’t think Bruce had a very good game tonight, despite talking up ES in the press prior to the match the team didn’t seem to take them very seriously and didn’t respond in the 2nd half either. His substitutions seemed odd as well. I think he has boxed himself in with his roster no true #9 and not many true wide midfield players that can play both ways.

    I still think the roster is good enough to win the tournament, but it’s also weak enough to lose in the semis.

  12. Call me crazy, but this is the second game that I felt Zardes really showed well. Nagbe was strong.
    Our defense was a mess, but I guess that’s less worrisome because none of our regular starters were playing. I would have subbed out Dempsey and jozy by 70′.
    The way ES played the second was appalling. It was like Suarez on crack out there. Truly disgusting. That ref was pretty awful

    • His relentless running, conditioning and positive attitude is needed against concacaf opponents. Those are traits that (to use a baseball term) never take a night off. Sometimes your timing or skill is missing but a player that will give everything he has in these dirty, absurdly physical and poorly refereed games is a necessity in concacaf. Ya he not ever gonna be a star but on a night like tonight you will appreciate the hard work

    • Bac, I was thinking the same thing. I know Chandler hasn’t been great when he plays, but I don’t recall him looking THAT bad. Of course, I missed Honduras a few years ago, so maybe take what I say with a grain of salt, or the whole shaker.

  13. El Salvador looked good between the penalty areas, but simply didn’t have it where it counts.

    The U. S. passing doesn’t get passing grades, and will have to improve if they expect to move on.

    Jozy Altidore is good for about 60 minutes and that is it.

    I see U. S. beating Costa Rica 1-0. And I would rather face Costa Rica right now than Panama.
    I think the U. S. will match up better against C/R. However, they will have to have better timing
    on their runs and passes if the want to see Mexico in the Finals.


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