By Kyle McCarthy, FOXSoccer.com
Landon Donovan scored once and prompted three other goals to lead the United States to a 5-1 victory over El Salvador at a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium.
The final score reflects the Americans’ dominance on the day without telling the entire story. El Salvador reduced the deficit to 2-1 through a Rodolfo Zelaya penalty eight minutes before the interval and threatened to nick an equalizer early in the second half.
Eddie Johnson eventually removed most of the doubt by scoring seconds after his introduction. A pair of goals in the final quarter of an hour secured a semifinal date against Costa Rica or Honduras in Arlington, Tex. on Wednesday.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann will take plenty with him – including these five points – from this match ahead of the more difficult task ahead in midweek.
1. The crowd doesn’t matter when the U.S. submits this sort of performance: Complacency and indifference presented the primary problems for the Americans ahead of this game. If they showed up and applied themselves, they possessed all the tools to win the game comfortably. If they strolled through the opening stages and threw El Salvador a lifeline, then the match could have posed some issues. This performance – even though Zelaya procured a penalty with a neat run and scooped home his spot kick shortly before halftime – fell firmly into the former category.
2. Quality, not tempo, mattered most on this day: El Salvador sat back and waited for the U.S. to press forward in possession. It proved a rather foolish tactic given its rickety defensive structure and the Americans’ ability to slice through the lines at will. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will want to see his players move the ball more crisply and take their chances more clinically in subsequent matches, but he cannot argue with the number of opportunities created by exhibiting the necessary patience and mining for the correct openings.
3. Donovan turns these sorts of games: Donovan’s final statistics on the day reflected his firm hold over the proceedings. The veteran forward spotted the openings and exploited them ruthlessly to the benefit of himself and his teammates. It is exactly the sort of display he needs to produce on a regular basis to convince Klinsmann he warrants a place in the full side.
4. Assess the opposition, exploit the weaknesses: Credit Donovan and José Torres for understanding the situation placed in front of them on corner kicks and set pieces. Both players recognized El Salvador’s inability to cope with short corners and adjusted their approaches accordingly. El Salvador lacks the height to adjust quickly to fluid situations with additional players injected into the mix. And the Americans exposed that weakness time and time again to devastating effect.
5. Eddie Johnson supplies a necessary alternative: Johnson offers a direct, pacy option missing from the Americans’ group stage efforts. He announced his arrival with a rasping header for the U.S. mere seconds after replacing Chris Wondolowski. He increased his contribution in the final half-hour with a mixture of flicks with his head (his assist on Donovan’s goal offered a prototypical piece of target play) and runs behind the line. It constituted exactly the sort of diversity the U.S. needs in the final third as it prepares for a rigorous semifinal assignment.