3 for Thursday: MLSers turned hat-trick heroes in Gold Cup

With the 2011 Gold Cup just a few days away, we turn our attention to the continental championship, which promises to be as thrilling as ever.

And while no moment can be as rewarding as lifting up the trophy at the end of a hard-fought final, especially when a Confederations Cup invitation is on the line, the sweet feeling of striking a ball to the back of the net is rarely unequalled — unless you do it three times.

Thus, we take a look at the top three hat-trick performances in a Gold Cup by a former or current MLS player in this week’s edition of Three For Thursday.

Donovan hits for hat trick + one

The US national team had no trouble advancing out of the three-team group stage of the 2003 Gold Cup. After beating both El Salvador and Martinique by scores of 2-0 each, the Americans advanced to the quarterfinals to take on Cuba.

Then a San Jose Earthquake, Landon Donovan entered the match on a bit of a scoring drought in league play, but he took all his frustration out on the Caribbean island nation. In the 22nd minute, Donovan easily tapped in a pass from Brian McBride. Three minutes later, the 21-year-old struck a half volley to complete his first-half brace.

However, that wasn’t enough. In the second half, Donovan scored twice more in the 55th and 76th minutes to ring up four for the night, becoming the fourth US player ever to bag four tallies in one game.

Ruiz’s Home Depot Center bonanza

Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe the Group C match between match between Guatemala and Jamaica in the 2005 Gold Cup.

The Reggae Boyz struck twice within the first five minutes, leaving los Chapines wondering what went on. After a quick huddle following Jamaica’s second tally, Guatemala sparked to life and Ruiz — then with FC Dallas and now with the Philadelphia Union — pulled one back in the 11th minute. The frenzied scoring pace probably would’ve kept going had it not been for Jamaican defender Claude Davis earning a straight red in the 15th minute.

Although play settled, the first half ended with a bang. Current RSL midfielder Andy Williams gave Jamaica their two-goal cushion back in the 45th minute, but before they could savor their lead, Ruiz had Guatemala back within one just second later.

The Reggae Boyz retook their two-goal lead in the 57th, but Ruiz refused to give up. He finished his hat trick with three minutes remaining, and although at 4-3 Guatemala searched for the equalizer, it just wasn’t meant to be.

McBride pulls a fast three on El Salvador

Swift and deadly, the US found themselves in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Gold Cup after beating group rivals South Korea and Cuba. Chasing their second Gold Cup crown, the Yanks were determined to let nothing get in their way, especially an El Salvador squad that lacked some firepower — and McBride made sure of that.

The 30-year-old Columbus Crew striker punished los Cusclatecos right from the start. Nine minutes in, McBride displayed his classic goal scoring instinct by heading home a failed clearance from the Salvadoran defense. Two minutes later, McBride tapped home a pass from Cobi Jones and, in the 21st minute, tucked home a pass from Donovan to finish his hat trick.

McBride could’ve had three more goals, but he was deemed offside and the scores were disallowed.

The striker finished as the tournament’s top scorer as the US went on take home their second — and McBride’s only — Gold Cup crown.