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CONCACAF Gold Cup Preview: United States vs. El Salvador

The Americans look to advance to the Gold Cup Semifinals at the expense of El Salvador.

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup-Nicaragua at USA David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Game: United States Men’s National Team vs. El Salvador

Date: Wednesday, July 19

Time: 9:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. CT, 6:00 p.m. PT, 12:00 AM UTC

Venue: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.

Television: FS1, UniMas, Unidivision Deportes

Streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, Univision Now

All-time record: 16-1-5, Last Meeting: W, 5-1 on July 21, 2013 in CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal

The United States Men’s National Team heads to Philadelphia to take on El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal tonight at 9 p.m. ET at Lincoln Financial Field. The USA finished the top of its group for the 17th straight time in the Gold Cup despite rocky performances and having to sweat it out until the end of its third match.

Head coach Bruce Arena has retooled the side ahead of the knockout stages by swapping six players and bringing in some of his most experienced and recognizable names: Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Tim Howard, along with new goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez who just completed a one-time switch of FIFA eligibility from Mexico.

The USA will miss Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who was the man of the match against Nicaragua with his two assists, as he departed to be home for the birth of his second child.

While there might have been some criticism of the USA’s play in the group stage, Arena successfully used the three matches to examine fringe players before the World Cup next summer. While he still is missing his European contingent, the ‘B+’ side is here with the goal of winning the Gold Cup, and should have the talent to at least play a competitive match in the final.

El Salvador advanced as the third place team in Group C with its 2-0 defeat over Curacao, and will look to advance past the Quarterfinal for the first time in Gold Cup history.

What to watch for from El Salvador

Ramon Diaraga’s side advanced to the knockout stages with a hard-fought draw against Jamaica in a rather open game. The El Salvador defense is certainly a weak spot, and it will have to defend deep for most of the match while conceding possession to the USA.

MLS fans will be familiar with Darwin Ceren of the San Jose Earthquakes, who is one of four US-based players along with Reno 1868 midfielder Junior Burgo and New York Cosmos players Richard Menjivar and Andres Flores.

The two players to watch will be forwards Nelson Bonilla and Rodolfo Zelaya, who are extremely dangerous on the counter and can’t be afforded any space to operate.

In the 3-1 loss to Mexico, El Salvador was particularly exposed on the flanks and had its defensive integrity compromised. Alexander Larin and Bryan Tamacas, the two fullbacks, will have their hands full - especially if Darlington Nagbe plays out wide.

Bruce Arena said before the game that El Salvador did not look like a side that would counterattack and that it would come out and play. In this case, Arena was probably showing the commensurate amount of respect to his CONCACAF opponents, because if Diaraga is serious about winning the game he will not let his side play an open game against the Americans.

What to watch for from the United States

The new additions to the United States squad give them enough talent to make this a straightforward affair. One of the big storylines will be if Clint Dempsey, sitting on 56 international goals, can grab one to tie Landon Donovan for the most in program history. Optically, it will be a great chance for the US to put in a complete performance and erase some of the criticisms that arose during the group stage.

Tim Howard will start in goal, with a probable backline of Jorge Villafana, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Eric Lichaj. Zusi could also appear at right back, and had a strong performance against Nicaragua. The defense should not be too troubled but has to be wary on the counter about giving too much space to the Salvadorian strikers. Howard and company also cannot afford to give up a goal on a set piece

In a potential central midfield pairing for the World Cup next year, Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta will man the center of the park with Nagbe on one wing. Gyasi Zardes or Paul Arriola will take up the other wing. If Dempsey is fit, Arena could opt for a two-striker system with Dempsey and Altidore up top. If not, Joe Corona or Juan Agudelo could take up a No. 10 role despite mixed showings from both at the position.

This is a match where the USA will dominate possession but not have any easy looks at goal, especially with a high-intensity performance from El Salvador in a quarterfinal. That being said, Bradley, Nagbe, Altidore, and Dempsey have too much quality for the USA not to score. The question here should if Arena’s side can win in style and comfortably instead of having to a grind out a spot in the semifinal.

What to expect

El Salvador would have to pull off an all-time shock result to advance past the US, and it seems entirely unlikely. Every team gets CONCACAF’d once in a while, but tonight should not be that night for the fresh-look American contingent. Expect Dempsey to tie Donovan for the top spot in American goals.

Prediction: 4-1 USA. Last time these sides met in the quarterfinal the USA ran out 5-1 winners. It should be another lopsided night in Philadelphia.