In front of a packed Jeld-Wen field in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team scored six goals for the second game in a row, to soundly defeat Belize and open Gold Cup play with a statement win.
Coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup was changed, though not entirely as expected, given the performances against Guatemala. Oguchi Onyewu gave way to Michael Orozco Fiscal, Edgar Castillo was replaced by Mix Diskerud, and Chris Wondolowski started over Herculez Gomez.
The U.S. started brightly, earning a corner within 30 seconds, and another less than a minute later. Possession was kept easily by the U.S. in the early going, and the ball rarely left the Belizean half, with the U.S. time and again finding good crossing opportunities. In the 8th minute, Landon Donovan skinned a defender just outside the Belize box and lofted a cross to the back post, which was headed back across goal by Clay Goodson, only for the ball to be cleared before the arriving Orozco Fiscal could provide the finishing touch.
The breakthrough came in minute 12. José Torres, playing on the left of midfield, beat his man down the outside. His cross found his right-mid counterpart Joe Corona, whose downward header was blocked, but Wondolowski was there to volley in the rebound and get his second international goal.
The Belizeans were unable to put the Americans under enough pressure to discomfit them on the ball, with all ten U.S. field players getting involved in moving the ball offensively, and consistently winning second balls. But, in the 23rd minute, an apparent foul on Diskerud led to a U.S. turnover and Belizean break, and Belize’s talented No. 9 Deon McCaulay was able to get a shot away from inside the box. The strike deflected off a U.S. defender and looped into the air, seemingly headed for Nick Rimando’s upper ninety, but Rimando got a palm to it and the chance passed. The biggest danger for the U.S. was complacency. Without a second U.S. goal, the Americans would always be open to a set-piece, break-away, or fluke goal goal by the Belizeans.
In the 29th, an excellent entry pass from Diskerud found Corona unmarked inside the Belizean box, but his cross was claimed by the keeper while several players in U.S. jerseys looked on. After 30 minutes, the U.S. had 80 percent of possession, but still only the one goal. In the 33rd, Donovan spun while receiving a pass out of midfield, leaving his marker grasping at air, then fed Corona for a shot in the Belize box, but it was saved low, leading only to a U.S. corner.
In the 36th, the U.S. squandered their best chance since the goal. Donovan beat his man around the outside on the right and served in a cross. The ball deflected off a defender and over the onrushing Wondolowski, only to fall for an arriving Torres. Unfortunately, his volley skied over.
But, a minute later, the U.S. had their second goal. A good cut back from the right wing found Beckerman just outside the Belize box. His first time cross was met by a diving Wondolowski header, and Wondo had his third goal for the U.S., putting his team up 2–0.
The margin wouldn’t hold for long, though. A soft foul by Donovan on the U.S. left wing gave Belize a free kick in the 40th minute. The ball into the box was good, but the U.S. didn’t do itself any favors by giving Ian Gaynair a free header, who didn’t even have to jump to beat Rimando with ease. It was terrible defending by the U.S.
Rather than pout, the U.S. simply went down the other end and scored again. Yet another cross from the U.S. right, this time from right back Michael Parkhurst, again found the head of Wondolowski, whose simple near-post header gave him a first-half hat-trick. Outside of another good strike by McCaulay, which drew a save from Rimando in the 40th, it was the last meaningful event of the half.
While the U.S. played well in the first 45, giving away such an easy goal was not a part of the plan, and sharper passing in the final third could have given the U.S. more than three goals, a serious condideration biven the importance of goal difference in this group stage. Klinsmann would certainly let the team know it at half time.
Klinsmann’s only change at the half was to bring on Stuart Holden for Kyle Beckerman, surely hoping to speed up the U.S.’s play. 30 seconds in, Belize’s Trevor Lennen came in studs-up, two-footed, and off the ground on Mix Diskerud. The challenge was ugly, and an obvious red card, but to the U.S.’s dismay, the ref chose only to give a yellow. Luckily, Diskerud soon walked it off.
While Belize had clearly come out with instructions to play harder, the second half proceeded in much the same way as the first, with Torres and Corona each having shots blocked in the 51st and 52nd minutes, respectively.
In the 56th minute, an excellent one-touch passing move between Holden and Torres led to a chance for Beasley from a very tight angle, but his shot was blocked out for a corner. The chances continued for the U.S. with Donovan finding himself one-on-one at the left of the Belize box. He found Diskerud central, whose powerful shot was saved.
Then, in the 58th, another cross from Corona found Donovan at the back post. Donovan nodded down for the arriving Holden, whose finish was simple to make it four for the U.S. The goal also gave Donovan his 50th international assist, to go with his 51 goals, a singular achievement in USMNT history.
In the 60th, Brek Shea entered the game for Torres on the left of midfield. He nearly found himself on the end of another Corona cross only seconds after, but the chance was cleared before it reached him.
Belize still showed themselves capable of the occasional dangerous moment, and a break in the 65th led to a McCaulay cross just floating over the head of a Belizean attacker in the U.S. box.
In the 66th, Alejandro Bedoya came on for Joe Corona. Like Shea, he found himself in a scoring position just seconds later, though he couldn’t squeeze his shot past the keeper from a tight angle.
In the 71st, a foul on Shea just outside the Belize penalty area led to a Donovan free kick. His ball was whipped in to the six-yard box where Orozco Fiscal was there to head it in and make it 5 for the U.S., and give Donovan another assist.
In the 75th, Bedoya found himself with the ball at his feet as he ran at the Belize box. His attempted cross hit two Belizean defenders, and the referee blew for handball and a penalty kick. On replay, the call was very harsh, but that didn’t stop Donovan from burying the spot kick to make it 6–1.
In the 78th, Holden found himself with a free header inside the Belize box, but put it wide. The U.S. would follow that with several more close calls, but couldn’t find another goal, and were forced to settle for six.
In the 90th minute, Rimando was called into action to make a diving save from a long-range piledriver sent in by Evral Trapp, preserving the 5-goal cushion.
Goal difference matters: In what is essentially a two-team group, the U.S. needed to rack up the goals against the weakest team, and did. +5 GD after game 1 is pretty good, especially since Costa Rica sits at +3.
First-half Wondo show: Evidently, the only thing it takes to get Chris Wondolowski scoring is to play Guatemala and Belize. After never having scored in nine previous international appearances, Wondo now has four in his last two games, more than earning his selection by Klinsmann.
Beckerman too slow: Against both Guatemala and Belize the U.S.’s play improved after Beckerman’s withdrawal and the insertion of Holden alongside Diskerud in central midfield. Beckerman is a Klinsmann favorite, but the evidence is pointing toward a drop to the bench for him.
Donovan in elite company: With 52 international goals and 51 assists, Landon Donovan has accomplished something few players have ever done before. Surely any questions of whether he should be included in the World Cup squad have been answered.
The U.S. could not have asked for a much better result than that. However, the Belize goal was regrettable, and not just because the U.S. allowed Belize—a team that could conceivably not score again in the tournament—to get a goal, but because the nature of the goal was so poor. The U.S. simply cannot defend set pieces that poorly again.
But any night you score six is a good night. With the best goal difference, the U.S. leads Group C and posted the biggest win of the first round of group games. While critics will say, “It’s only Belize,” one needs only look to Panama and Martinique through the eyes of Mexico and Canada to know that winning the games you’re supposed to isn’t always easy.
Cuba, which plays the U.S. on Saturday, will surely pose a stiffer test, but the U.S. is flying high, and will look to continue scoring goals in bunches. You can watch the action live from 3:30pm on Fox, Univision, and Fox Soccer 2Go.