BALTIMORE — The passes were sharp, the defense sound and the goals plentiful.
The United States couldn’t have played much better, and the timing could not have been more perfect.
Clarence Goodson and Joe Corona scored during an eight-minute span of the first half, and the U.S. cruised past El Salvador, 5-1, on Sunday to advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud and Seattle Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson added second-half goals for the
Americans, who will next play at Arlington, Texas, at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Honduras, a 1-0 winner over Costa Rica in the nightcap of the doubleheader.
Assists aren’t an official statistic in the Gold Cup, but Donovan set up three scores in a dazzling performance.
Johnson added an insurance goal in the second half with a header off a Donovan pass in the 60th minute to put the U.S. ahead, 3-1. The score came 14 seconds after Johnson entered the game as a substitute.
“I think Landon proved again today how valuable he is and now he can make a difference,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “This game was important for coaches to see who is a difference maker. Overall, we see our team clicking more and playing better and better.”
To say the least.
The U.S. has won nine consecutive full internationals — a record for the country’s national team. The Americans have also prevailed in seven of their past eight Gold Cup matches, the exception being a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 final.
“We are trying to catch up with the big teams in the world,” Klinsmann said. “It’s all about speed. I’m not talking about physical speed. I’m talking about mental speed, passing speed with every player going both ways. That’s what we’re working to. This is a process and I think that process is coming along.”
El Salvador’s Rodolfo Zelaya scored. El Salvador is 1-19-7 overall against the U.S.
“Collectively, they’re a very good team,” El Salvador coach Agustin Castillo said through a translator. “They almost play by memory. They can find the spaces. It almost seems like every time they pass the ball into a space, it’s going to nobody, then somebody appears and actually meets the ball. Good work, good movement.”
And good enough to claim a fifth Gold Cup.
“They’re the best team I’ve seen in this tournament,” Castillo said. “They are a candidate to win it all.”
Goodson put the U.S. ahead in the 21st minute with his second goal of the Gold Cup, converting a crossing pass from Donovan, who gained possession near the end line within 15 feet of the net.
Minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando kicked aside a straight-on shot by Lester Blanco Pineda and batted away the subsequent rebound at the right corner of the net.
In the 29th minute, Corona got the ball at the top of the penalty area and used his right foot to line a shot into the left corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.That drained much of the enthusiasm from the strong contingent of blue-and-white clad El Salvador fans.
The U.S. continued to dominate, and it took several strong saves by Dagoberto Portillo to keep El Salvador within striking distance.
Momentum shifted in the 39th minute, when El Salvador’s Rodolfo Zelaya was fouled by DaMarcus Beasley and converted the penalty kick to make it 2-1.
It was perhaps the lone flaw in an otherwise lopsided match.
“The difference today was scoring early goals,” Donovan said. “Even though they got a questionable goal back, we still kept going and our effort was really good. Obviously, to score five goals is a bonus.”
Johnson added an insurance goal with a header off a pass from Donovan in the 60th minute. The score came 14 seconds after Johnson entered as a substitute.
Donovan converted a breakaway in the 78th minute. He is only player in history to score in six Gold Cup tournaments.
Six minutes later, as a sudden rain shower began to pick up intensity, Diskerud found the back of the net.
Five goals, five scorers. That’s balance.
“It seems like we’ve been playing with each other for a while,” Jose Torres said. “We move the ball well, we know each other well — where we’re going to move. I think we’re looking good right now.”