It was the kind of start you want to see from the U.S. Men’s National Team against CONCACAF’s middle-of-the road opposition: Kick off; assume control; jump in front; and cruise. Though a late second half hiccup allowed El Salvador to score from the spot, keeping the match competitive at halftime, three second half goals saw the United States cruise into Gold Cup semifinals, their 5-1 win setting up a match against the winner of tonight’s Honduras-Costa Rica match quarterfinal.
Dictating play from the opening whistle, the U.S. went up in the 21st minute through Clarence Goodson, the defender converting on play from a short corner. Eight minutes later, Joe Corona finished from the top of the penalty area, a goal that was pulled back in the 38rd minute by Rodolfo Zelaya’s penalty kick. On the hour, however, Eddie Johnson, who had been on for 14 seconds, headed home a Landon Donovan corner, restoring the U.S.’s two-goal margin. In the 78th minute, Johnson returned the favor, flicking Donovan behind the defense for the game’s fifth goal, while Mikkel Diskerud’s closer gave the U.S. their final margin or victory.
As much as the U.S. dominance will be one of the game’s takeaways, so will Landon Donovan’s breakout. The team’s all-time leading scorer added to his record while adding three assists. On the only goal that kept his name off the scoresheet, Donovan played the crucial part in setting up the Corona tally. Though the opposition wasn’t elite, Donovan’s performance was, providing U.S. fans proof their biggest star still has some game-breaking performances in the tank.
The match’s first 20 minutes saw the U.S. dominate possession, favoring their right side as a packed in El Salvador absorbed pressure, relying on their counter attack. But with crosses from Michael Parkhurst and Joe Corona, the U.S. were able to force a number of corner kicks, with one finally paying off in the 21st minute.
That’s when a short ball from Jose Torres to Donovan was played back to Parkhurst, whose chip over an advancing defense played Donovan toward the byline. Before the ball rolled into touch, Donovan cut a ball back across the penalty area, finding an unmarked Goodson at the edge of the six for an easy goal.
Eight minutes later, Donovan again played a key part in the goal. Cutting in from the left, the U.S. attacker carried the ball to the edge of the penalty area, drawing the defense before playing across to Chris Wondolowski. The San Jose captain passed to the top of the penalty area for Corona, who found a lane through the sprawling Salvadoran defense to fire the U.S.’s second score into the left of goal.
Before halftime, however, Zelaya made his impact felt, drawing a penalty from U.S. captain DaMarcus Beasley after the left back blocked the attacker’s path to a ball rolling in the right of the penalty area. Zelaya’s chip into the middle of goal beat Nick Rimando, restoring Salvadoran hope just before intermission.
That hope disappeared in the 60th minute, seconds after Seattle’s Eddie Johnson checked in for Wondolowski. Allowed to run onto a Donovan corner, Johnson leapt at the edge of the six and finished into the upper-left of goal, restoring the U.S.’s two-goal margin.
After the match seemed settled, the U.S. began piling on, with Johnson’s flick of a ball from midfield putting Donovan behind a high El Salvador line. Bursting past the helpless defense, Donovan eventually sidestepped goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo, burying his 54th international goal.
With the Salvadorans well-beaten, the U.S. added their fifth, with Donovan providing his third assist of the match on a short-range header from Diskerud. Steering the U.S. to a four-goal win, Donovan had completed his best performance of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
Ultimately, the final did both teams justice. El Salvador provided some first half sparks but failed to threaten the U.S., with their demoralized play over the match’s final 10 minutes potentially deserving a few more goals allowed.
For Klinsmann’s team, it was the type of control and dominance you’d expect from a team that’s arguably the best in the region. And with Donovan still capable of outbursts like today’s, that team may be ready to hit another gear.