Gold Cup: Shades of '04 for USMNT goalscorer Eddie Johnson, who admits to nerves off bench

BALTIMORE – Same opponent. Similar situation. Just nine years apart.

In more ways than one, Eddie Johnson’s goal against El Salvador in Sunday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal and his debut international tally back in Oct. 2004 reeked of déjà vu.

Both came with the US protecting a one-goal lead against El Salvador. Both were created by Landon Donovan. And both came just moments after Johnson entered the match as a second-half substitute.

Except on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, it didn’t take him four minutes to find the back of the net. It took 14 seconds, as Johnson’s first touch – a thumping header from Donovan’s short corner – put the game out of reach and took the anxiety out of a US bench that knows all too well that CONCACAF opponents cannot be allowed to hang around.

“That was pretty fast,” Jurgen Klinsmann deadpanned in his postgame press conference, admitting his players put themselves under undo pressure after failing to kill the game off in the first half.

Asked whether it was the fastest goal he’d ever scored, Johnson answered affirmatively, harking back to that World Cup qualifying matchup in San Salvador nine years ago as a reference point.

In that game, though, the US struggled in the first half before pulling away in the final 45 minutes for a 2-0 win. This time around, with a Gold Cup semifinal place on the line, a 2-1 lead didn’t feel entirely secure with El Salvador in the ascendency.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [a little nervous],” said Johnson, who was fittingly sporting a lightning bolt shaved into his platinum blond dye job. “These teams in CONCACAF, these games, they’re difficult. They’re tricky.

“You can go from dominating a game into giving up a goal and the team getting right back into the game and making it really hard for us. A little nerve-wracking? Yeah, but I never had any doubt within our group.”

Of course, any hint of doubt quickly evaporated after Johnson’s header, and the US pushed on from there, adding insurance goals via Donovan and Mix Diskerud to silence a pro-Salvadoran crowd hungry for an upset.

“We knew that it was a very tricky opponent and they proved that,” Klinsmann said. “They caused us a couple of issues, especially right after halftime. They had opportunities to tie to the game. Thankfully, they didn’t.”