The United States Men’s National Team overcame a sluggish start and an extremely chippy El Salvador side to win 2-0 Wednesday night in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal in Philadelphia, behind goals from defenders Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj.
The Americans will face Costa Rica in the semifinal on Saturday in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium at 9:00 p.m. ET. It is the ninth straight semifinal the USA has reached at the Gold Cup.
Despite another subpar performance, the USA was able to advance to the semifinals with a late flurry at the end of the first half thanks to goals from Gonzalez (41’) and Lichaj (45+2).
Gonzalez scored in his second straight match for his third career international goal, and he became the first American defender to score twice in the Gold Cup since Carlos Bocanegra in 2003. Lichaj scored his first international goal.
Aside from the unimpressive USA performance and the Salvadorian mettle, a big story line was the terrible refereeing performance from Drew Fischer. The USA committed 19 fouls and was issued one yellow card, while El Salvador committed 25 fouls and was issued four yellow cards. There should have been a few Salvadorians sent off, and Henry Romero bit Jozy Altidore. Seriously.
El Salvador player bites,nippletwits Jozy Altidore. That is a real sentence. pic.twitter.com/kHVqBukW5B— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) July 20, 2017
Ramon Maradiaga’s side played with an extra edge the entire night and had more than few dirty plays.
El Salvador actually opened the game well and controlled the flow of the game for the first ten minutes. Arena’s side seemed flat footed and Rodolfo Zelaya was giving the USA back line fits and forced a great save from Tim Howard.
Eventually the USA came into the game with a few chances and had a Gyasi Zardes goal wrongfully ruled offside in the 17th minute. The rest of the half drifted by as El Salvador mucked up the game enough to disrupt the USA from sustaining pressure.
Just as El Salvador thought it could escape the half unscathed, Michael Bradley whipped in a set piece in the 41st minute from deep on the left wing across the face of goal that Omar Gonzalez was able to redirect with the slightest of touches into the back of the net, despite being dragged down on the play.
Minutes later, Justin Morrow pushed forward from his left back role, linked forward to Clint Dempsey, who used a nifty turn to create space and send in Eric Lichaj on an expertly timed run. The right back found himself in an advanced position and made no mistake, firing through the legs of Derby Carillo to hand the USA a 2-0 lead.
The second half was ugly, with some chances for both sides, and an alarming number of counterattacks from El Salvador. The defense ultimately held up and the team was able to secure the win. Philadelphia Union man Chris Pontius made a late cameo and was subbed on in the 87th minute.
The USA has yet to showcase its talent in the Gold Cup, and despite being a ‘B’ side, or ‘B+’ with the changes before the knockout stage, there are some red flags around Arena’s men. It’s hard to pinpoint one American who was particularly bad, but it’s hard to pinpoint one who was particularly excellent. Michael Bradley played a very clean game in the No. 8 role and Dempsey’s class shined through on the second goal.
The USA will have to play much better on Saturday against a Costa Rican side that is the third best in CONCACAF, cagey and not as wasteful as El Salvador. The matchup will mean a little extra on the line for the players who lost to Costa Rica 4-0 in World Cup Qualifying back in November, with the prospect of revenge added on top of the opportunity to return back to the Gold Cup Final for the first time since 2013.