USMNT: Stars in Stripes
OTF’s Austin Fido returns to review another rollicking episode of USMNT’s Gold Cup campaign…
USMNT jackhammered El Salvador in Baltimore. Seventy percent of possession. Fourteen shots on target. Five goals.
If American soccer is seeking to connect with its identity under Jürgen Klinsmann’s Stuttgart-meets-SoCal coaching, then this performance was a 90-minute expression of untrammeled id.
From first to last, USMNT attacked without restraint or logic. Crosses flew into the Salvadoran penalty area, regardless of whether anyone was waiting to receive them. Kyle Beckerman is a man so focused on the responsibilities of sensible soccer he hasn’t thought to wash his hair for a decade. But he pinged long range shots on goal with wanton enthusiasm. Even Michael Parkhurst, typically a cautious and industrious full back at this level, frolicked up and down the right flank like a puppy chasing butterflies.
This has been a high-scoring team since its first match together — the 6-0 blowout of Guatemala — but the 5-1 Gold Cup quarterfinal thrashing of El Salvador is a new high-point. That’s some going when you consider these guys scored 17 and conceded only twice in the preceding quartet of games. They have had bigger wins in this run, but perhaps not better.
These Yanks keep clambering up the list of superlatives. It’s hard to keep track, but I have them currently at the apogee of the crest of the zenith.
Still, the Gold Cup mountain is not yet summited. There are two fixtures to be played. First Honduras, then hopefully Mexico. One hopes for Mexico because a key objective of Klinsi’s psychoanalysis of USMNT is catharsis. Such resolution cannot be attained by playing Panama.
But that is a future to which USMNT is not entitled. Those opponents will present their own challenges, and those challenges might not be overcome. For now, let us simply enjoy the afterglow of another thrilling victory.
Sure, El Salvador were always favorites to lose. But not necessarily like this. La Selecta Cusatleca is a well-coached young team, spearheaded by perhaps the most exciting attacking prospect in CONCACAF: Rodolfo Zelaya. Despite the relentless shelling from USMNT, the Salvadoran challenge didn’t fade until the last half-hour.
In the 11th minute, Darwin Ceren bamboozled Clarence Goodson and had a very good claim for a penalty. “Ball-to-hand” strikes me as a scandalous obfuscation of what was once a simple rule. Goodson didn’t mean to get his hands on Ceren’s attempted flick, which bounced off the big defender’s foot and into the arms he was extending for balance. But misfortune has its place in sport, and it surely would have been whistled as a foul had it occurred outside the box.
It should have been a penalty, but wasn’t. Nor did USMNT dwell on the matter. The rampant assault on the Salvadoran goal continued unabated. Such pressure paid off in the 21st minute. A short corner routine — José Torres to Landon Donovan to Parkhurst, who pinged it back to Donovan — sprung the Salvadoran off-side trap. Donovan crossed to an unguarded six-yard box, and Goodson scored.
Still, El Salvador would not lie down. A counter-attack should have yielded a goal in the 26th minute. Zelaya found space down the right, cut into the box and threaded a wonderful pass to the feet of Mark Léster Blanco. Nick Rimando should not have had the chance to make a save. Blanco didn’t have much time, but the pass deserved a shot beyond Rimando’s reach nonetheless.
Barely two minutes later, the Yanks hit the net again. Donovan popped up on the left, slalomed toward goal, laid the ball off for Chris Wondolowski, who relayed to Joe Corona. And he laced a shot through a thicket of defenders, beating Dagoberto Portillo at the near post.
Even that goal, and the flurry of USMNT chances that followed, didn’t crack El Salvador’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with the tournament favorites. In the 38th minute, Zelaya dribbled past Parkhurst, Beckerman, and Matt Besler, from one side of the penalty area to the other. His journey was abruptly ended by DaMarcus Beasley’s hip-check — and that was good enough for a penalty. An audacious Panenka gave Zelaya his fourth goal of the tournament.
Let us hope his Gold Cup performances will deliver Zelaya to a club appearing more regularly on our televisions than Russia’s Alania Vladikavkaz or El Salvador’s Alianza.
He continued to terrorize USMNT’s back line with virtually his every touch, until he left the game in the 70th minute. By which time, El Salvador’s heroic resistance had finally been broken. Chris Wondolowski exited on the hour mark, and Eddie Johnson scored with his first touch. A deft header off a corner confirmed the blond’s ambition to be in the starting line up for the final. It helps when you haven’t been on the field long enough to attract a marker at a set piece. Still, it was a very well taken goal.
Johnson put on a show in the final 30 minutes. Certainly, he was aided by Klinsi’s decision to throw Brek Shea on for Torres, thereby stretching a tired Salvadoran defense. And it is perhaps unfair to compare a fresh-legged cameo against a demoralized opponent with Wondo’s worthy efforts when the game was more evenly matched. But Johnson’s pace makes him a greater threat from deep positions than Wondo appears able to muster.
He is also a more effective target man, as demonstrated when his 78th minute flick-on set up Donovan for USMNT’s fourth goal of the match. It was a down-the-middle, Route One maneuver which brutally extinguished any lingering hope of a comeback for El Salvador.
Johnson didn’t stop there. His next major contribution was a left-wing shimmy that pulled the Salvadorans toward him, followed by a cross that sent them scrambling in the other direction. Donovan collected, his blocked shot popped out to Beckerman — and the defense pushed up to draw the offside line away from goal. Beckerman chipped back wide to Donovan, who crossed for Mix Diskerud to score. The Salvadorans were exhausted, the Americans exuberant.
Diskerud’s goal was the fitting finale to an imperious performance. This outing demonstrated the team can sustain an aggressive hunt for goals for the full 90 minutes, when appropriate. Against El Salvador, it was certainly justified. The scouting report doubtless suggested this team was dangerous going forward, but vulnerable at the back. To seek to score quickly and often was absolutely the right tactic.
The Yanks’ boisterous roadshow travels next to Dallas for a June 24th semifinal showdown with Honduras. Los Catrachos have mastered a just-enough-to-win-but-no-more style so far in this tournament. To match USMNT, they will need more than they’ve shown to date.
OTF’s Austin Fido uses fewer words @canetop.