On a hot afternoon in Baltimore, in front of a very pro-El Salvador crowd, the U.S. Men’s National Team broke open a tight game in the second half, blowing away the Salvadorans 5–1.
Matt Besler, newly called up for the remainder of the tournament, started alongside Clay Goodson in central defense, with captain DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Parkhurst either side. Kyle Beckerman returned to the starting lineup, with Mix Diskerud, Jose Torres, Joe Corona, Landon Donovan, and Chris Wondolowski in front of him. Nick Rimando started in goal.
The early play was in El Salvador’s half, but without much direction, as the Salvadoran defense was massed and energetic. In the 9th minute, the U.S. managed to put together its first decent passing maneuver, which resulted in a Diskerud cross put dangerously across the box.
Shortly after, though, the U.S. was forced to defend in its own box, as Darwin Cerén took on Goodson. Cerén’s ball flicked up toward Goodson’s arm, having deflected off his shin, but the ref gave nothing, and it would have been very harsh to give a handball.
In the 15th minute, an excellent ball out wide right by Beckerman resulted in a tantalizing cross back into the box by Corona. The ball hung in the air, ripe for a volley, but Diskerud whiffed on his attempt. El Salvador recovered the ball and broke back, and Goodson was forced to take a yellow card to stop the attack. Rodolfo Zelaya, El Salvador’s danger man all afternoon, put the free kick over.
In the 20th, Wondolowski just missed getting his head on another cross from the U.S. right and was cleared. The resulting U.S. corner was taken short. The ball moved central and was dinked over the top by Parkhurst to Donovan. Donovan raced to the end line and served the ball low in front of the Salvadoran goal, where Goodson was there to put it home for the first goal.
The U.S. was energized by the tally, and in the 25th, Wondolowski latched onto a long ball, creating another great look, but his pass was cut off. El Salvador took off on the counter, and Rimando was called on to make two saves in rapid succession, the first a reaction kick save, the second low to his left post. He then swallowed up the following corner. El Salvador, though wounded, clearly had something to offer.
But in the 29th, the U.S. made it two.
Tight passing along the U.S. left sideline found Corona at the top off the El Salvador box. He got the ball out of his feet, and side-footed home. The second goal would kick off a period of absolute domination, with the U.S. pouring forward and creating multiple chances:
- In the 30th, the U.S. found Donovan one-on-one versus the Salvadoran keeper, but he couldn’t find the height on his chip, and the keeper claimed.
- In the 34th, a long switch of fields put Parkhurst into space. He attacked the Salvadoran box and exchanged a one-two, but his shot was saved. On the following corner, Donovan found Parkhurst for a cross, where four U.S. players stood unmarked, but Wondolowski could only put it straight into the keeper’s hands.
- In the 36th, Donovan got another shot off inside the Salvadoran box, but could only find the keeper.
- In the 37th, Donovan, again inside the Salvadoran box, cut back for Corona, but this time, his shot was blocked and saved.
The U.S. was in complete control, but, in the 38th, Zelaya found himself with the ball at the top of the U.S. box. He jinked past two defenders into the penalty area before being challenged by Beasley, who took the man with his shoulder, resulting in a penalty to El Salvador. Zelaya stepped up and calmly chipped the ball straight down the middle to make it 2–1.
El Salvador was buoyed by the goal, and the U.S. chances didn’t flow as swiftly, but in the 42nd, Beckerman took a long range shot that forced a low save from the keeper and gave the U.S. a corner. Unfortunately, they could make nothing of it, and play eventually turned over to El Salvador, who moved quickly upfield with numbers. Luckily for the U.S., the eventual shot from Andres Flores Mejia was easily claimed by Rimando.
After dictating play for large portions of the half, the U.S. was frustrated to go into halftime with only a one-goal lead.
El Salvador made one change at the half, while the U.S. made none.
El Salvador had the first shot in anger of the second half, with a long range effort in the 46th minute, which Rimando saved with ease. In the 49th, the dangerous Zelaya again found himself on the ball in the U.S. box. The U.S. defenders, obviously hesitant to challenge, allowed him to center for Salvadoran substitute Kevin Santamaria, but his shot was high. In the 50th, Zelaya was in the U.S. box again, twisting and turning, but this time his shot went just wide.
In the 53rd, a Beasley foray upfield into the Salvadoran box resulted in another long-range rasper from Beckerman, which forced the keeper into a finger-tip save. The U.S. pounced on the loose ball, and put a cross dangerously across goal, but no one could get a toe on it.
The game settled into a rhythm of the U.S. controlling possession and creating occasional chances with El Salvador looking to hurt the U.S. through its skill players, primarily Zelaya.
In the 58th, Torres, who’d been having good luck winning free kicks on the U.S. left, won a corner. With the ball out of play, Eddie Johnson came on for Chris Wondolowski. Johnson’s first touch was a header on the resulting corner, burying the third U.S. goal. Quite a way to make an entrance, and another period of U.S. dominance began, but again without end product:
- In the 64th, Donovan ran into the box and skipped past the keeper. His cut back found Corona, who passed to Diskerud, whose first-time shot deflected over.
- In the 66th, Brek Shea replaced Torres, who’d had a good night. His first contribution was to take the throw in straight into the El Salvador box. His cut-back came to Johnson, who squared for Beckerman, whose shot was blocked. The ball came to Donovan, but he screwed his shot wide.
- In the 70th, a Parkhurst cross found Johnson, but his first-time shot ballooned over the bar.
- In the 71st, Johnson again found himself on the ball on the right, but his teasing cross was poked wide by Donovan.
El Salvador continued to create half-chances from crosses, but few good shooting opportunities, until the 76th when a cross found Rafael Edgardo Burgos, who settled and set the table for Santamaria to rip one just wide of Rimando’s post.
But just as it looked like El Salvador might make things interesting by scoring another, Donovan, the all-time leading U.S. scorer, put the game away. In the 78th, a long-ball upfield was headed on by Johnson. Donovan sprinted past his defender to reach the ball first, rounded the keeper, and slotted home from 12 yards to make it 4–1, and what had been a tight game became an easy one.
In the 80th, Donovan could have made it five when a good U.S. passing move gave him a shot inside the Salvadoran box. This time, he whiffed.
In the 83rd, strong work down the left by Johnson resulted in a shooting chance for Donovan, which was blocked. The ball popped out to Beckermen, who put it straight back over the top for Donovan to run onto. Donovan’s first-time chipped cut-back found Diskerud, who headed down and in for the fifth U.S. goal.
After that, the U.S. could have scored a sixth or a seventh, and the final incidents of the half were chippy fouls and U.S. missed chances. While El Salvador made it hard for a while, the U.S. had it made in the shades.
Nine wins in a row: With the win, the U.S. extended its record streak of wins to nine. Considering the wailing and gnashing of teeth that was going on just about a year ago, it is yet another sign of the remarkable turnaround Jürgen Klinsmann has effected with this team. At this point, anything other than making it 11 straight will be a disappointment.
Donovan misfires, but still influential: While Donovan could have scored a hat-trick or more had he made better connections on a handful of shots, it was his pushing and probing that led the charge for the U.S. in the second half. It seems bizarre that so many thought he was finished at the international level just a few short months ago.
Beckerman steps up: While Beckerman’s play was again too slow, especially in the first half (as was that of the whole team), he picked things up after the break, nearly scored a brace with long-range shots, and had a hockey assist on the U.S. fifth. He played more heads up, and his defensive work was important. He deserves to keep his place.
Subs make hay: For the fourth straight game, subs made substantial contributions to the U.S. win. Johnson scored with his first touch, ten seconds after coming into the game, and Shea’s powerful runs and accurate crosses created multiple chances. Klinsmann is on a roll, and this team looks primed to keep rolling.
El Salvador was up for the game, played with energy and commitment, and Zelaya was a handful. In the end, though, the U.S. was better in all phases of the game and are now the heavy favorite to win the Gold Cup. Having scored 16 and given up three, the U.S. has the best offensive record in the tournament, and the second-best defensive record (behind Panama, who have given up two). This may be a U.S. B team, but they’ve certainly brought their A game.
The team will play the winner of Honduras vs. Costa Rica match in Dallas on Wednesday.