By Ridge Mahoney
Eddie Johnson came off the bench to score with his first touch and break open a tight game in which Landon Donovan scored one goal and set up the other four in a 5-1 defeat of El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinals Sunday.
Donovan’s strong play throughout the match, despite his squandering of several scoring chances, pushed El Salvador into its own half for much of the 90 minutes. The insertion of Johnson produced a goal with his first touch and set in motion an unstoppable surge of attacks that produced two more goals, and another two or three would not have been undeserved.
The Americans have won nine straight games for the first time in the national team’s history heading into a Gold Cup semifinal match against Honduras in Dallas on Wednesday.
RATING PLAYER (CLUB) GP/G
7 Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) 10/0. Incredible kick save on close-range shot by Mark Blanco and dive to stop follow-up Andres Flores’s attempt preserved a 1-0 U.S. lead. Rimando had few other tough shots to stop, yet he also sifted through traffic to claw tricky crosses and came off his line smartly to smother through balls. Couldn't use his prowess against penalty kicks to stop Rodolfo Zelaya's brazen 'Panenka.'
6 Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/GER) 15/0. Nearly scored on a give-and-go with Donovan when his Dagoberto Portillo repelled his hard-hit shot, and his return flick to Donovan from a short corner kick led to the first U.S. goal. He worked some effective combinations with Joe Corona and the central mids. Defensively he was reasonably solid, though Zelaya cut past him en route to drawing a foul and a penalty kick.
6 Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes) 39/5. He slid forward during a short corner kick to stab home Donovan’s low ball into the six-yard box for the first goal. He seemed unbalanced occasionally by the speed and assertiveness of Zelaya and Blanco, and during El Salvador’s brief push for an equalizer he had to scramble a few times.
5 Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) 12/0. Matched up well with Zelaya and Blanco, had a bit of trouble adjusting to Kevin Santamaria in the second half but eventually got the measure of him as well. Didn’t launch many long balls, preferring instead to either play short balls or swing the ball along the back line.
5 DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/MEX) 107/17. Ranged updfield effectively in the first half to drive in crosses and play penetrating passes on the ground. Took a nasty hit that he needed a few moments to recover from. Like many of his teammates, he got caught up in frantic moments and his play suffered for a period of time. He threw a body block on Rodolfo Zelaya to provide El Salvador with its penalty kick, a blatant foul for which he fortunately was not cautioned.
6 Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/NOR) 8/2. Made up for missing an early chance by tucking away Donovan’s feed for the fifth goal. Relayed numerous balls out wide and through the middle into good spots, dug into tackles also while screening the back line. Occasionally lost track of Richard Menjivar yet tightened his grip on the middle as the U.S. took command in the second half.
7 Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) 29/1. Started the match a bit scruffily with a few misplaced passes and slow reactions, then secured the center for long stretches by tackling strongly and passing sharply. Hit two long-distance shots that forced lunging saves, though he also fired one from a great spot right into the keeper’s fists. From rather deep positions hit a few superb deep balls to the flanks to open up attacking lanes.
7 Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/MEX) 9/2. Scored a nice goal from the top of the arc when set up by Chris Wondolowski, and took a lot of balls at the Salvadoran defense that set up crosses or diagonal balls into the goalmouth. Moved into space out wide on the right to open up that channel for teammates. Also worked hard defensively and kept tabs on William Romero but got caught upfield on a couple of Salvadoran counters.
6 Jose Torres (UANL/MEX) 25/0. A lot of work off the ball and on the defensive side helped the U.S. keep its shape and use its possession efficiently. He may have set a personal record for tackles. Left-footed deliveries on set plays didn’t produce any goals but were well-struck, and he occasionally floated out to the touchline and tested the Salvadorans with outswingers.
9 Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy) 149/54. Managed to play a great game despite failing to convert three excellent scoring opportunities, which shows just how incisive and dangerous he was nearly every time he touched the ball in the Salvadoran half. Took his goal well with a clean trap and expert finish of Eddie Johnson’s flick on, and stamped his mark on the other four goals. His corner kick to Johnson provided the clinching third goal, on two others he provided the final pass, and his dribble through the left channel set up Corona’s goal.
5 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) 15/6. Didn’t get on the end of much service, but performed adequately with his movement and hold-up play. On one sequence he held the ball under pressure on the left side and sent a square pass that just failed to produce a shot. He earned an assist by relaying Donovan’s pass to Corona.
7 Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) 54/16. Got his head into the game right away by powering home Donovan’s corner kick with his first touch, and nodded on a long ball to set up L.D. for fourth U.S. goal.
6 Brek Shea (Stoke City/ENG) 21/1. Drove up the wing to test the Salvadoran defense with crosses and short balls to feet, also got forward during buildup play to occupy opponents.
5 Michael Orozco (Puebla/MEX) 9/2. Comfortably handled the mop-up work required as El Salvador floundered in search of a consolation goal.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=average; 10=high.)