Case in point: For all the importance placed on a team winning its first game, just doing so is no guarantee of advancement, even with two of the three third-place teams qualifying for the quarterfinals along with the top two in each group.
El Salvador opened with a 2-1 victory over Trinidad & Tobago the same day the USA scraped past Guatemala, 1-0, at Home Depot Center. By the time they met at Gillette Stadium Tuesday, the Americans were rolling and the Salvadorans reeling.
Result: 4-0 to the USA, thanks to a DaMarcus Beasley blinder (scored two goals, set up another), single tallies by Taylor Twellman and Landon Donovan, and the Salvadorans' bothersome habit of misfiring on the few chances they had to claw their way back into the competition.
Playing with just one striker, supposedly the death knell for attacking play, the Americans again scored an early goal but for the first time in the tournament went into the locker room up, 2-0, and added two late goals after absorbing some Salvadoran pressure to win going away.
Beasley collected a half-clearance and floated a right-footed shot through four defenders in the 34th minute, and in stoppage time Donovan put away a penalty kick - at the second attempt - after a handball in the Salvadoran penalty area.
Beasley and Donovan played on the wings with Clint Dempsey in the middle, supported by a three-man midfield of Benny Feilhaber, Pablo Mastroeni and Michael Bradley. The midfielders sometimes drifted wide themselves to prompt attacks, at other times they preferred to tuck inside and leave space for outside backs Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector.
This varied, mobile attack and pressure applied by the front six bewildered El Salvador. The three-man phalanx in midfield stunted its efforts to connect passes when the ball turned over. Balls played into the corners forced Bornstein and Spector to chase but seldom did those situations produce dangerous crosses or shots.
A ball played over the top in the 12th minute released Juan Campos for a shot but it sailed well wide. A turnover midway through the half produced a quick shot from Dempsey with the outside of the foot and it banged off the goalpost.
Beasley guided home his first goal with a right-footed floater through four opponents that nestled just inside the post. He nearly scored again later in the half but whistled a shot a yard over the bar. Still, there was enough time for another attack.
An attempted cross by Feilhaber that struck Alfredo Pacheco on the arm at the edge of the penalty area yielded a penalty kick that Donovan put away on the second attempt after keeper Miguel Montes had saved the first kick but was ruled to have moved too soon. Donovan also blasted in the rebound of the saved kick but referee Benito Archundia had already signaled for a re-kick. Midfielder Michael Bradley had encroached into the penalty arc before the kick was taken.
El Salvador, which could have advanced with a tie, had no choice but to press forward in the second half and kept the USA pinned back much of the time. The Americans tackled and covered sloppily at times. But El Salvador's shooting didn't test keeper Tim Howard.
Beasley, playing with a bold confidence last seen during his first season (2004-05) at PSV Eindhoven, scraped the ball loose to set in motion a superb counterattack for the third goal. He ran the ball across the midfield line before relaying it to Ching, who had replaced Bradley in the 64th minute. Ching pushed it forward and sliced a superb pass between two opponents for Twellman to line up and blast underneath Montes.
Another break resulted in Beasley's second goal with a minute to play. Ching dribbled about 40 yards to find Dempsey, who laid the ball off for Beasley to tuck past Montes.
Salvador's defeat, on the heels of a loss to Guatemala in its second game, left it with three points and no hope of advancing. The Americans, having scored seven goals and conceded none in its three group matches, play either the third-place team from Group A (Guadeloupe) or the third-place team from Group C, which concludes play Wednesday, on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
June 12 in Foxboro, Mass.
USA 4 El Salvador 0. Goals: Beasley 34, 89, Donovan pen. 45, Twellman 73.
USA -- Howard, Spector (Simek, 81), Onyewu, Parkhurst, Bornstein, Bradley (Ching, 64), Mastroeni, Feilhaber, Donovan (Twellman, 46), Beasley, Dempsey.
El Salvador -- Montes, Guevara (Salazar, 46), Henriquez, Carballo (Julio Martinez, 46), Sanchez, Escobar, Pacheco, Jose Martinez, Campos (Larios, 77), Cerritos.
Yellow cards: USA -- Bradley 10, Mastroeni 45, Onyewu 56; El Salvador -- Guevara 19, Campos 29, Cerritos 45.
Referee: Benito Archundia (Mexico).