The United States will take on El Salvador in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Gold Cup on Saturday afternoon. On paper, it should be a relatively easy match for the Americans.
Although they won 1-0, the Americans struggled a bit against Costa Rica, breaking a scoreless tie in the 82nd minute on this goal from Brek Shea:
Despite the late goal, the Americans dominated possession, controlling the ball 63 percent of the time, as per ESPNFC. They also had 12 shots, while Costa Rica had just eight.
The Americans have been the class of the Gold Cup thus far, and that shouldn't change against El Salvador. El Salvador has just one win in the tournament, a 1-0 victory over Haiti. In that game, Haiti actually controlled the ball 53 percent of the time.
La Selecta was able to advance on the strength of Rodolfo Zelaya, who has three of the team's four goals so far in the tournament.
The U.S. has only given up two goals in the Gold Cup, but good teams create a decent number of chances against them. That's a main reason why the U.S. brought in Matt Besler as a defensive reinforcement for the knockout round.
However, El Salvador is essentially a one-trick pony—outside of Zelaya, there isn't much else going on.
The Americans, on the other hand, have been led by the spectacular play of Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski. Since returning to the national team against Guatemala in May, Donovan has scored four goals and has three assists. He has been the pace-setter for the entire offense and has proven once again why he is one of the best American players of the last decade.
Wondolowski has come out of nowhere to provide spectacular goal-scoring. While he was held in check against Costa Rica, Wondolowski has scored five goals in the Gold Cup. His speed and game-changing ability make him a candidate for more national team duty in the future.
El Salvador will do what they can to force the play towards the flanks, as well as forcing their own pressure up high, as Costa Rica did. El Salvador would be wise to learn from Costa Rica, who used a strong defensive game to fluster the Americans. Costa Rica used a five-man back line, which gave the U.S. and Mexico trouble.
However, Costa Rica is a better overall team than El Salvador, so the defense-first strategy may not be as effective this time around.
For the Americans, the main objective is to slow down Zelaya. Zelaya is a wonderful player, creative and explosive with the ball, but he is the only real offensive threat for La Selecta. If the U.S. can stop him, they should not have a problem winning.
The Americans have been the best team so far, and their gutty win against Costa Rica was impressive. Donovan will look to control the pace, putting the pressure on to build up an early lead. To stop Zelaya, the Americans could collapse down a bit, with midfielder Kyle Beckerman playing a supporting role.
Look for the Americans to win, although it will not be a blowout. El Salvador will adopt a defensive style, and Zelaya could easily net a goal. But the Americans have more overall talent and will advance to the next round.