BALTIMORE – There were a few uneasy moments, but the US national team is marching onto the Gold Cup semifinals after defeating El Salvador 5-1 in front of 70,540 fans at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Clarence Goodson opened the scoring for the US, followed shortly by a strike from Joe Corona, before El Salvador striker Rodolfo Zelaya gave the minnows a glimmer of hope. The Americans quickly extinguished that optimism in the second half via goals from Eddie Johnson, Donovan and Mix Diskerud.
Donovan was the clear standout on the night, terrorizing the Salvadorans with his pace, one-on-one ability and penchant for the final ball, collecting three assists and bringing his goal total to five in the US’ past five games to go along with six helpers. He has three goals and six assists in four Gold Cup matches.
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made two changes to the team that disposed of Costa Rica in the Group C finale, bringing Kyle Beckerman back into the fold to partner Diskerud and replacing Michael Orozco Fiscal with Matt Besler.
El Salvador manager Agustín Castillo stayed true to his pregame promise to change little if nothing, sticking with the XI that snuck past Haiti to seal a spot in the quarterfinals.
As predicted, the US dominated possession from the start, forcing El Salvador to camp out in their own half and absorb pressure. So much so that the Americans racked up nearly 74 percent possession in the opening 45 minutes.
Goodson got the US on the board in the 21st minute. Lined up over a corner kick, Jose Torres elected to take it short to Donovan, who picked out Michael Parkhurst in a prime position to cross. Instead, Parkhurst flipped the ball in behind to Donovan, setting up a low ball back across the six-yard box that Goodson pounded home for his fifth career US goal.
El Salvador nearly evened the game minutes later, but Nick Rimando conjured back-to-back goal-saving stops on Mark Blanco and Darwin Cerén togive the US the opportunity to double their lead, one they dutifully took in the 29th minute through Joe Corona.
Once again, Donovan provided the cutting edge, marauding down the left flank before slipping the ball inside to Chris Wondolowski. The 2012 MLS MVP kept the ball moving, and Corona’s feint forced one defender to the ground before the midfielder passed the ball into the back of the net.
For the next two minutes, it seemed the US lead would grow by leaps and bounds, but poor finishing allowed the Salvadorans to grab a lifeline.
That came courtesy of DaMarcus Beasley, who bowled over Zelaya in the area in the 38th minute after the striker skipped past the rest of the US backline probing for an opening. El Salvador’s lone Gold Cup goalscorer went cheeky with his penalty attempt, chipping the ball down the middle to make it 2-1.
That seemed to give the long shots some hope, although possession remained with the US. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Klinsmann’s decision to swap Wondolowski for Johnson in the 60th minute paid off after just 14 seconds.
The platinum blond striker entered with the US preparing for a corner kick and promptly thumped Donovan’s cross, set up by another short corner with Torres, past Dagoberto Portillo in the El Salvador net.
Donovan made it 4-1 in the 78th minute, beating defender José Henríquez to a Johnson flick over the top, rounding the ‘keeper and slotting the ball into an empty net before dropping to his knees as raindrops fell around him.
Diskerud finished things off six minutes later when Donovan’s precise chip found the young midfielder in the six-yard box with enough room to nod the ball past a scrambling Portillo.
The US move on to the semifinals, where they will meet Honduras on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.