Jul 21, 2013, 6:30 AM EDT
Having reached the business end of this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, a United States side with a freshly fortified back line and an upgraded attack will be under real pressure for the first time in the tournament Sunday afternoon.
The United States blew through the group stage with the anticipated ease (outscoring the three opponents 11-2). So Jurgen Klinsmann’s team get its first elimination-match test Sunday, facing El Salvador at an M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore that will be packed and steamy.
It will also almost certainly be sharply divided in fan support; the United States will heavily favored, but El Salvador is likely to be heavy with fan support.
“It doesn’t matter if we have now eight in a row or five or two or whatever,” Klinsmann said Saturday. “In order to win this tournament we have to win the next three games. So we are not looking at any statistics. We know we have a difficult match here tomorrow and we are ready for it. For us, the Gold Cup is only successful if we win it.”
If the 11 U.S. goals in three matches look impressive, consider that 10 came against decidedly overmatched Belize and Cuba. While it was surely “mission accomplished,” the United States had a significantly tougher time operating against Costa Rica.
Besides, it was the “2” in that 11-2 goal difference that seemed more important as Klinsmann made four allowable changes between the highly forgiving group stage at the quarterfinals.
Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, the top two center backs in Klinsmann current player pool were added to the Gold Cup roster (although Gonzalez will not join the team until Wednesday’s semifinals in Dallas, assuming safe U.S. arrival.)
Klinsmann also added forwards Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson. Neither will be the “featured” attacker, however. The bulk of attention will fall on Landon Donovan, who is having a swell time of things in getting back with the national team – never mind that it’s a “B” team version, set so intentionally to get some of the front-line men some rest ahead of their European seasons.
Donovan has two goals and two assists in the tournament, including a picture perfect pass across the field to Brek Shea to create Tuesday’s late breakthrough against Costa Rica. Getting the country’s all-time leading scorer and set-up man folded back into the program and regaining the coach’s trust in him was probably the second most important objective in this semi-annual tournament (after winning it, naturally). To hear Klinsmann talk, it sounds like everything is moving in a great direction.
“His leadership in that moment [late Tuesday] is very important to the team, and he understands that moment,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a player that understands the importance of certain games.”
History suggests the odds are with the United States, which has lost just once in the Gold Cup quarters, that all the way back in 2000.
Other numbers suggest good fortune, too. For instance, the United States is 15-1-5 against El Salvador all-time. The hosts Sunday have faced the small Central American nation four times in the Gold Cup and won all four (1996, 2002, 2003, 2007) by shutout.
What’s more, Tuesday’s 1-0 victory against Costa Rica ran the program’s all-time best winning streak to eight consecutive wins.
None of that will matter, however, if the United States can’t find a way past El Salvador, which sneaked into the quarters after a win, a loss and a draw in group play. It took a Sacha Kljestan stoppage time goal for the United States to find a win last time the teams met, in Tampa in early 2010.
“Our expectation is that they’ll do what every other team has [in the tournament],” Donovan said. “They will defend with everything they have and then try to catch us on perhaps a counter or a set piece or something like that.”
Expect to see Besler and probably Johnson. Assuming all goes well, Besler and Gonzalez would probably see out the tournament as the country’s top central defensive pairing.
“For us it’s a chance to bring in some more experienced guys, so guys that are a little bit fresher, and I think it will help us,” Donovan said.
May 24, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT
It was almost like Stoke wanted him to score.
May 24, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
After 380 PL games, here’s how things finished.
May 24, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager knows he could have hurt his position today with a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Stoke City on the season’s final day.
May 24, 2015, 1:03 PM EDT
The Blues hoist the trophy in front of their own fans in west London.
May 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Hull spent on Abel Hernandez and others in a relatively splashy summer, but still sink into the second tier.
May 24, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT
A resilient John Carver, buoyed by Newcastle United avoiding the drop, has reiterated his desire to lead the Premier League club.
May 24, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Clarets sign off with a win as Villa go into FA Cup final on the back of two-straight defeats.
May 24, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
West Ham released a statement on Allardyce’s removal seconds after Sunday’s final whistle.
May 24, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Saints must wait for Europa League spot, as Lampard signs off in style.
May 24, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
Tigers relegated after throwing everything at United.
May 24, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Kane nodded home an Eric Dier cross to give Spurs a lead, and Tottenham controlled possession for most of the match in holding on for all three points.
May 24, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT
Marouane Chamakh netted the only goal of a relatively friendly match before injuring himself shortly after.
May 24, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Brand new England call-up Jamie Vardy scored in the 16th minute and fellow Foxes Marc Albrighton, Leonardo Ulloa and Esteban Cambiasso also scored in a 4-1 win.
May 24, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
A perfect day for Theo Walcott in his return to the starting lineup saw the Gunners confirm their third place finish.
May 24, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Potters batter Liverpool as Gerrard’s final game ends on a sour note.
May 24, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT
West Ham finishes 12th with 47 points, a far cry from their lofty early season pace. In an odd twist of fate, Newcastle finishes above its rivals at Sunderland.
May 24, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
The Premier League champions finished off their last three points of the season at Stamford Bridge.
May 24, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT
Didier Drogba made his 381st and final Chelsea appearance, and the players honored him as he came off a half-hour in.
May 24, 2015, 11:16 AM EDT
PL legend signs off in style with a goal in his final game in England’s top-flight.
May 24, 2015, 11:14 AM EDT
It was a trio for Theo, as Arsenal’s speedy Englishman helped the Gunners to a big halftime lead over West Bromwich Albion.
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