On a hostile Sunday in Baltimore, the USMNT defeated El Salvador 5-1, clinching a place in the Gold Cup semifinals. Really, 5-1? It must have been a ho-hum piece of cake win, right? Well, not exactly. Despite the Americans scoring the first two goals, El Salvadoran keeper Dagoberto Portillo played the match of his life, making key save after key save to keep the game at 2-0. In the 39th minute, El Salvador’s main — well only — attacking threat, Rodolfo Zelaya, dribbled around all four defenders before being clearly fouled in the box by DaMarcus Beasley. Zelaya cheekily put his Panenka penalty past Nick Rimando, and a potential blowout was suddenly a 2-1 nail biter.
El Salvador came out to start the second by switching to a 4-3-3 formation, giving its attack new teeth. By the time the Yanks knew what hit them, several attempts to equalize narrowly failed. Slowly, the United States regained control of the game and recent addition Eddie Johnson made the score 3-1 just seconds after entering the game in the 60th minute. From there, despite being cheered raucously by a pro-El Salvadoran crowd, La Selecta ran out of gas. The match ended 5-1, with disappointed fans throwing debris on the field in the direction of Landon Donovan. The USA will next play the winner of Honduras and Costa Rica, Wednesday in Dallas at 7 PM EST.
Dan Popko and I watched and graded the match. As always grades are scored on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best and 1 being reserved for Klinsmann’s selection of Alan Gordon.
Nick Rimando: 7
Made several key saves and commanded his area well. Appeared to be the only member in the squad to recognize the formation change at the start of the second half. Looked silly on Zelaya’s panenka, but quashed any talk about Sean Johnson replacing him in this tournament.
Michael Parkhurst: 7
Got the job done defensively at right back whenever his side was threatened. Was much more effective going forward in this game, making several key passes, including the trigger pass that led to the USMNT’s first goal. Still makes some head scratching decisions on offense, but played well.
Clarence Goodson: 6
Scored the United States’ first goal off a fabulous cross from Donovan. Committed a foul that resulted in a yellow card to stop an El Salvadoran break. Played hesitantly throughout the remainder of the match, and looked a step or two slow when having to deal with Zelaya. Could easily have been whistled for a hand ball in the box early on, but was given the benefit of the doubt by the referee.
Matt Besler: 4.5
Played physical, which bothered El Salvador’s playmakers, but was not the same man who took charge in the previous World Cup Qualifiers. Like his fellow defenders, looked overmatched on the run up to Zelaya’s PK. Being reunited with his central defense mate Omar Gonzalez Wednesday should help restore his confidence. Rusty performance chalked up to lack of familiarity with this set of teammates. Subbed off in the 75th minute.
DaMarcus Beasley: 5.5
Was a threat going forward, but it seems like we write this after even match. Defending in this game was not as sharp as previous outings. Penalty committed against Zelaya was atrocious, and one of the few times he’s ever been overmatched athletically.
Kyle Beckerman: 7.5
Kept up his string of good performances by playing a textbook “No. 6” role. Defending was good, but not at the level of some of his prior efforts. Has magically turned into a playmaker in his last two matches playing several threatening balls in the attacking third. Began firing shots from distance that were unfortunately stopped by Portillo. I have no idea what the hell is going on with him, but let’s hope it continues.
Mix Diskerud: 7
Played his usual box-to-box match, actually overshadowing Beckerman with his defensive prowess. Played several good long balls throughout the game, however, was not as sharp in keeping possession. Really did not have a signature moment before heading in the final goal when El Salvador had all but given up.
Joe Corona: 6.5
Scored the USA’s second goal, and what a goal it was. Waited until the last possible second and the best possible time to fire one home at the edge of the 18-yard box. Was dangerous attacking throughout the first half and nearly scored twice more. Looked like a Man of the Match candidate before disappearing in the second half.
Landon Donovan: 8.5
A goal and three assists fueled the American offense and earned our consensus Man of the Match award. Was simply playing at a different level than everyone else at times. When he gains the edge in the box, good things happen as evidenced by the Goodson and Diskerud goals. Snakebitten by a combination of Portillo and luck, but scored the USA’s fourth goal by blowing past the defense to roll one in. Was pelted with debris including a pair of sunglasses that he tried to put on, winning the unofficial, “USMNT gif of the Year”. Maybe he has not lost a step, as I had previously suggested in our last “If We were Jürgen…” post.
José Torres: 6
Was quieter than his previous outings but still made some good things happen. Drew fouls and set the tone by taking players on at the beginning of the night. Continues to distance himself from the rest of the squad when it comes to taking set pieces. Like Corona, was a non-factor in the second half. Subbed off in the 66th minute.
Chris Wondolowski: 5
Has cooled off from his red hot Gold Cup start, but put in a better effort than his Costa Rica performance. Was inches away from getting his head on a ball that would have led to a great chance. Showed versatility by covering a lot of ground on the wings and backtracked to earn touches to keep with the flow of the game. Simple pass led to an assist on Corona’s goal. Subbed out in the 60th minute.
Eddie Johnson: 8
Fifteen seconds after coming on for Wondo he found the back of the net with a header to make it 3-1. Proceeded to rip up El Salvador for the next half hour, assisting on Donovan’s goal. El Salvador defender Jose Henriquez may need an oxygen tank after having to chase him and Donovan around for the last third of the game. Somehow still found the energy to get back and help out in defense as well. Made a really strong case to earn the semifinal start at striker. Bright Gold Cup inspired hairdo probably inspired a few fans, but grossed out others.
Brek Shea: 7.5
Played a confident 25 minutes off the bench taking players on after replacing Torres. Easily could have had two assists, but Portillo handled the resulting strikes. Has found a nice medium between his awful Cuba game and his heroic Costa Rica performance.
MIchael Orozco-Fiscal: N/A
Played the last fifteen minutes. El Salvador was out of steam and he was not tested. With Gonzalez arriving from Los Angeles for the semi’s, his Gold Cup may be over. Still have no idea what his future is with this squad until he gets a chance against a quality attacking team.