The United States men’s national team continued its unblemished form in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday night, defeating Honduras 3-1 in the tournament’s semifinal match. The win came courtesy of goals by Eddie Johnson and a pair from Landon Donovan.
Here are five things we learned from the U.S. win.
After a strong showing for the Seattle Sounders in 2012 after returning home from a failed stint in Europe, Eddie Johnson earned his first call-up to the USMNT in the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
The call-up came in October 2012 as the team prepared to face Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala in World Cup qualifying. With the U.S. desperately needing a win to put their qualifying hopes back on track, Johnson was given a surprise start versus Antigua and Barbuda.
In that game, Johnson scored twice on headers, including the game-winning goal in stoppage time. Several days later against Guatemala, he sealed his comeback with another strong performance.
While he is known primarily for his speed, his best weapon for the U.S. has been his head. On Wednesday, U.S. fans got another reminder of his excellence in that regard as he set up Landon Donovan’s eventual game-winner with a flicked header in the 27th minute.
Johnson replicated the feat again early in the second half to set up Alejandro Bedoya, but Bedoya’s shot was saved by the Honduras keeper.
And, just three days ago in the quarterfinal game against El Salvador, Johnson scored with a headed corner kick only 14 seconds after entering the match as a second-half substitute.
Should something happen to Jozy Altidore, Johnson has shown Klinsmann and U.S. fans that he can handle target striker duties if needed.
Against El Salvador in the quarterfinals, the Americans went into halftime up only 2-1 despite completely dominating the match. Despite scoring the first two goals, a penalty call helped El Salvador draw within a goal just before the half.
The U.S. responded well, however, scoring the all-important third goal when Eddie Johnson headed home a corner kick in the 60th minute.
Against Honduras on Wednesday night, the U.S. again faced adversity when, after dominating the entire run of play and going up 2-0, Nery Medina lost Alejandro Bedoya on a set piece and brought the Hondurans within a goal. However, just seconds later, a combination between Bedoya and Landon Donovan saw the latter score to restore the United States' two-goal advantage.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. endured horrific officiating. Jose Torres was chopped down time after time only to be yelled at for complaining. DaMarcus Beasley was stamped twice with no caution being given, Stuart Holden was blatantly elbowed in the face (in the box), and fouls were called on the U.S. every time a player even nudged a Honduras attacker.
Eventually, Klinsmann was sent off after justifiably losing his temper, but the U.S. players held their composure, calmly killing off the game.
It has become obvious by now: Landon Donovan is dominating this Gold Cup. He has five goals and seven assists as well as a number of uncredited "hockey assists," where he set up the player who got the assist. On Wednesday, he was the USMNT's talisman, picking up two goals and assisting on the third.
That may not be surprising, but after the Americans' successful run of games without Donovan over the past year, many fans and even Klinsmann seemed to be fine with the notion of not having Donovan on the team anymore.
In this Gold Cup, he has proved that he has a place in the team the next time the full squad is assembled.
Though he will take some grief for losing his man on Honduras’ goal and endured a shaky start to his night, Alejandro Bedoya eventually worked his way into the game, providing two solid assists to Donovan.
He still has plenty of competition for spots on the wing with Donovan, Graham Zusi, Joe Corona, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Johnson, Jose Torres and Herculez Gomez all in the mix, but a poor performance on Wednesday probably would have sealed his fate. At least for now, with his strong showing, he has a fighting chance.
While this run against Belize, Cuba, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras has not been versus the best level of competition with many "A" players missing from most sides, they have still been good enough to proclaim Donovan’s return. So have they been good enough to prove Kyle Beckerman’s quality?
The worst game the U.S. played in this tournament was when Beckerman was excluded from the lineup against Costa Rica, and he has shone bright in all of his starts. On Wednesday, he again played well again, tackling and winning possession in the middle of the park and providing nice, simple possession to get the U.S. attack started.
Although his athleticism can be exposed by better teams, he has been having the tournament of his life. On Wednesday, he completed 90.2 percent of his passes. By comparison, Stuart Holden completed 87.9 percent. It's not a substantial difference but surprising nonetheless.
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