It's Chicago or bust for the United States. In order to get to the 2013 Gold Cup final, the Americans must get past El Salvador in the quarterfinals.
The U.S. was perfect in the group stage, picking up the maximum nine points. El Salvador qualified as one of the top third-place teams after finishing with four points in Group B. On paper, predicting the winner should be easy.
Who wins this Gold Cup quarterfinal?
However, Jurgen Klinsmann has his team playing well at the moment in terms of run of form, which is a far cry from a couple of months ago. It's not always pretty, but the Americans have managed to get the job done when it has counted the most.
It's worth noting that the winner of the 2013 Gold Cup will play in a one-game playoff with the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup to determine who will go to Russia for the 2017 Confederations Cup. The move was made by CONCACAF in order to give more weight and importance to each Gold Cup.
El Salvador will put up a strong resistance, but it won't be enough to keep the Americans out of the semifinal.
Here's a quick preview for this Gold Cup quarterfinal.
When: Sunday, July 21, at 4 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
Live Stream: FOX Soccer 2Go
USA Player to Watch: Matt Besler
Klinsmann included Besler in the Gold Cup squad after rules allowed him to make four changes before the end of the group stage. It was a smart move because Besler can come in and shore up the back line for the U.S.'s critical knockout fixtures.
Although he's only 26, Besler's rise to stardom has been relatively quick. He didn't feature in the national team before 2013. After being included in some 2014 World Cup qualifying matches, the centre-back has immediately become one of Klinsmann's key players.
Besler is skilled enough on the ball for a defender, but he excels at getting in the way of passes and breaking up attacks. He has great positional awareness and is able to get himself in the right places at the right times.
The United States should be solid at the back with Besler in the fold.
El Salvador Player to Watch: Rodolfo Zelaya
Few players have seen their stock rise higher than Zelaya. The 25-year-old forward is plying his trade in the El Salvador first division. However, he has some bigger ambitions, via Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl.
If the U.S. can take Zelaya out of the match, the Americans should be able to shut down the rest of the Salvadoran attack. If the Americans don't mark him closely, Zelaya will wreak havoc on the opposing back four. He can make the right runs and finish. He's deadly from set pieces as well.
Asked Rodolfo Zelaya if he'd be interested in MLS. He said his club contract runs out in 6 months and smiled.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 20, 2013
As if the motivation of getting El Salvador to the semifinal wasn't enough, Zelaya is also looking to impress potential suitors for a move abroad. He'll be a handful for the U.S.