US Player Ratings: Tim Howard guides Americans to Gold Cup semifinal

It certainly wasn't pretty, but the US national team still managed to make their way to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final four with a 2-0 win over pesky guests El Salvador on Wednesday night.

Due to the ball-hunting/extremely chippy visitors and their own simple ineffectiveness, the red, white and blue boys spent most of the game looking extremely disjointed. However, they closed the first half with a decisive five-minute span that saw two nice goals from defenders grant the winning margin.

Tim Howard (7) - The US netminder didn't have all that much to do, but he gets a big brownie point for the third-minute rush off his line that nixed a nightmare start. Howard read the mistake instantly, and then played the break-in perfectly.

Eric Lichaj (6) - The right back's horrendous early back pass forced the Howard bail out mentioned above, and he also was guilty of a second-half misplay that caused trouble at the back. His big insurance goal, on the other hand, was the marvelous product of a gutsy burst forward, a sublimely curled run and a good finish. Lichaj also covered for teammates with a couple bits of emergency defending after the break to bring his grade up to passing.

Omar Gonzalez (6) - The Pachuca defender was one of the few US players to perform well in the opening frame. Gonzalez cleaned up a few messes and kissed home the opening goal from a restart. After intermission, a couple bouts of ball-watching in the box put the team under unnecessary stress.

Matt Hedges (4.5) - It was another subpar showing for the FC Dallas man. In the early going, Hedges lost a mark on a cross and gave up a dangerous free kick. Later in the half, his careless giveaway near midfield sent El Salvador running on a counter.

Justin Morrow (5.5) - The left back was decent moving forward without ever unlocking the visitors' defense. Morrow's grade dipped below average when he sorely misjudged a long ball to gift El Salvador a free rush.

Michael Bradley (6.5) - The Bald Eagle served a tasty long free kick on the opening goal. Bradley did make some important defensive interventions, but he also went missing from the gate a couple times.

Darlington Nagbe (5.5) - The Portland ace was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball in the first half, but improved after the break.

Gyasi Zardes (5.5) - The LA Galaxy attacker was robbed of a goal by a bad offside flag. Zardes also pulled off a brilliant turn to play a cross in the second half, but he was mostly relegated to possession work.

Paul Arriola (6) - Perhaps the only USMNT player to match El Salvador's buzzing in the first half, Arriola was solid without truly shining.

Clint Dempsey (6.5) - The Seattle veteran struggled to get on the ball in space most of the night, but his turn to set up Lichaj was delicious.

Jozy Altidore (5.5) - You almost want to give the striker a bonus point just for the sheer volume of kicks, bites and purple nurples he withstood on this night, but that's not how the grading works. Altidore had an off night with his hold-up play and his three shots were accurate but not especially troubling.

Coach Bruce Arena (5) - One cannot fault the coach for all the silly individual mistakes. That said, he does get part of the blame for the extended disconnected play because of the revolving lineup door in this tournament. Changing 8-10 field players every game will certainly do that to a team. It's time to stop looking for answers and steady the group for a title run.

Subs:

Jordan Morris (5) - This game seemed custom-made for the Seattle speed demon to have impact off the bench, but he was rather invisible.

Kellyn Acosta (6) - The relief midfielder forced a bad pass that put El Salvador on the break shortly after coming on, but tidied up after that and played one beautiful ball to feed the wing.

Chris Pontius (-) - A mere cameo.

Vote for Man of the Match

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.