Yesterday's performance against Honduras was about as complete and fun to watch as we've seen from this U.S. Men's National team during the Gold Cup.
There was not much to dislike from their overall game, aside from the poor marking on Honduras' lone goal by Nery Medina. However, the U.S. team countered the opposing team's goal with one of their own only a minute later.
The quick answer effectively ended the game as Honduras never really created many dangerous chances from then on even, though they did seem to have more of the possession as the game wore down. That quick answer was also a sign that the U.S. did not become too complacent, allowing Honduras a chance to get back in the game. The poor marking on defense was a small hiccup that was immediately rectified with great work from Clarence Goodson, Alejandro Bedoya and Landon Donovan.
Speaking of Landon Donovan, his tournament has become more and more spectacular with each passing game as he remains the creative spark and central force that the offense flows through. Another two goals yesterday, along with the beautiful assist to Eddie Johnson, gives Donovan five goals and seven assists for an incredible tally. His composure on the first goal was absolutely phenomenal, having the awareness to chest the ball down and hit it on the half-volley instead of waiting for it to settle.
His numbers get watered down slightly by the first few teams he played, but it seems that Donovan has saved his best for last, and what he has in store for the final should be quite the sight to see.
The offense was in full force yesterday as chances were created early and often with Johnson converting in the 11th minute. Johnson checked in towards the ball played by Goodson on the ground, only to dummy it to a trailing Donovan. Johnson's curling run towards goal after the dummy gave Donovan a perfect window for a one-touch through ball. Johnson made no mistake after speeding past the Honduran defenders to finish neatly, giving the United States a 1-0 lead on an excellent combination play.
Johnson's hold-up play in the first half was also a pleasant sight to watch. His tall, strong frame allowed him to control the ball under pressure from the more slender Honduran defenders. His sneaky-good speed also allowed him to race past unassuming defenders to get a touch first and lay it off to his advancing teammates. He was unlucky to not score in the second half on a lay-off from Bedoya.
Overall, Johnson's play was typical of the past performances that have made him a regular in Jurgen Klinsmann's eyes as of late and he is certainly a bright spot going forward.
After a slow start, Bedoya was one of the best performers of the day. His hustle and smart play contributed to the other two goals scored by the United States. He outworked his defenders to two long balls played in over top of the defense to get two one-touch crosses in to Donovan. Bedoya was also physical on defense with the slender Honduran wings attempting to cut across the field and make dangerous runs. These subtle uses of his body altered his opponents' balance and slowed them down.
His impact on the game was greatly felt and speaks to the depth this United States team has shown in this tournament. It is also a testament to the faith Klinsmann has in each of his players to perform. Bedoya started over Joe Corona, who scored in a previous game, which might have seemed questionable before the game started.
By the end, it's become the smart move to accept Klinsmann's choices as he believes and we have seen that each and every one of his players is always ready to play, and play well when called upon.
Goodson's passing out of the back in this game was also a pleasant sight as he was directly involved with two of the three goals, providing the hockey assist to the actual assist. His play on the ball was smooth and he never forced much. His recent performances may cause Klinsmann to rethink his first-choice pairing of Omar Gonzalez with Matt Besler, as Gonzalez has been shaky in his recent games with the team.
The last player who should merit a stand-alone mention is Kyle Beckerman. As always, Beckerman was the anchor of midfield who started many of the United States' counter-attacks. His distribution off the ball yesterday was impeccable and he made very few mistakes. He was constantly in the fray, breaking up plays, winning back balls and slowing down Honduran counter-attacks. His defensive midfield spot in the final should be all locked up after this performance.
While those four players had slightly more effective games yesterday, that is not to say that the rest of the team lacked in quality or positive impact on the game. Jose Francisco Torres was a ball of energy as usual in the first half, but he was frustrated by several late challenges by the Honduras defense and that seemed to knock him off his game a bit.
He may have also been the defender to lose Medina on the set piece where Honduras scored. It is slightly hard to tell who was marking him as several players were in the vicinity of Medina when he headed it home.
Stuart Holden turned in another strong game as he provided many of the same qualities that Beckerman did on defense while also attempting some creative passes and shots on offense. It is also worth noting that Holden went a full 90 minutes to dispel the idea that he is still not match-fit. His stamina and game play are improving with each contest and a return to his previously stellar form in 2010 may be in order soon.
The rest of the back line was solid, but not spectacular. Michael Parkhurst did have some shaky moments on the right side, but it never led to anything of serious danger for his team. Matt Besler turned in another steady performance and made a crucial block on a close attempt on goal in the second half. DaMarcus Beasley was rarely troubled in the game, but he did not seem to get forward much to help in the attack until late in the second half.
Honduras did not do much to mount any serious attack going forward, so there may not be much to criticize or pick apart in regards to defensive efforts. The U.S. does need to improve on set pieces, though, as it has become a bad habit of allowing dangerous attempts on goal.
Nick Rimando was stellar in net with the limited chances he had to deal with. On the set piece where Honduras scored, he was left out to dry by his defense for an unmarked header that he could not have saved.
He did bail out Clarence Goodson on his mistake in the second half when he became a bit too cozy on the ball and Honduran forward poked it forward, forcing Rimando to come out. He got to the ball first and made a nifty move with his feet to dribble around his opponent and clear the ball. This play was quite surprising, yet it showed his great composure and awareness to attempt this.
The substitutes also played well in their short stints on the field. Brek Shea had several inviting crosses into the box, one of which almost resulted in a goal by Eddie Johnson after Bedoya's smart lay-off. His speed and inventiveness on the wing is a good asset to have in the future.
Mix Diskerud was his usual self in midfield, making few, if any mistakes with the ball and doing his part to win it back as well.
Chris Wondolowski did not have much to do in his brief time on the field. He was limited to link-up play and minimal looks on offense.
The last thing to mention about this game was the U.S. team's resilience in the second half to resist the urge to combat Honduras' chippy and overly physical play with some of their own. The fouls they drew were out of frustration for Honduras and it visibly aggravated Klinsmann to the point where he became angered with the referee for allowing it to continue without some sort of punishment.
The referee subsequently threw Klinsmann out, but I'm sure it was, no doubt, great to see the fiery passion in their coach as he defended his team to the bitter end as they marched on to victory.
The U.S. Men's National team will play Panama in the Gold Cup final on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.