Jeff Bradley: Enjoy the scoreline vs. El Salvador? USMNT also showed it can take one on the chin
In the end, the final score was 5-1, and it could have just as easily been 10-1 for the US over El Salvador, in Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal in Baltimore.
But the final score – as usual – does not tell the entire story of what transpired in front of 71,000 fans at M&T Stadium, because the US had to take a couple of punches in this match.
Their response in those moments tells a much deeper story.
The first punch came in the 26th minute, five minutes after Clarence Goodson had given the US a 1-0 lead, getting on the end of a well-orchestrated set play. El Salvador’s Rodolfo Zalaya weaved into the box and fed Mark Blanco for what looked to be a tap-in.
But Nick Rimando had other plans. The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper made a seemingly impossible kick save. The ball rebounded out to El Salador’s Darwin Cerén, who tried to place a left-footed shot inside the post to Rimando’s left. Rimando dived to make another outstanding save.
What could have – even should have – been a 1-1 game, stayed 1-0 for the Americans. Three minutes after those saves, Joe Corona scored the second US goal.
The second punch the US had to absorb came in the opening minutes of the second half. A penalty to El Salvador just before halftime made it a 2-1 game and now the team in blue and white were desperately trying to please the thousands of fans who came to see them make history. The storm did not last long, but the US team briefly looked unsure of itself.
Strange to look back at that opening 10 minutes of the second half as the most critical moment in the match when the final score was so lopsided, but it was vital for the USMNT to not concede.
The longer the Salvadorans failed to find an equalizer, the more space in the attack there was for a US team that was feeding off the energy and raw speed of Landon Donovan. The only questions about Donovan’s spot on the US team moving forward will be about his health.
In other words, if Donovan is healthy and wants on the field, the US has no player better at creating chances. The top scorer in USMNT history's final tally could have been even greater had he finished off a few clear chances, but no one is going to complain when nearly every dangerous attacking play flowed through him. In the second half, Donovan’s trademark iron lungs were on full display.
This match was a good test for the US, mostly because of the passion brought by El Salvador’s legion of fans. But on the field, especially from an athletic standpoint, the game was every bit the mismatch the final score portrayed.
There are more punches to come in the semifinals on Wednesday and – the US hope – the final. But on Sunday, the US twice showed they have a pretty good chin.