Three thoughts on U.S.' Gold Cup semifinal victory over Honduras
Three thoughts on the U.S. national team's 3-1 win over Honduras in Wednesday evening's Gold Cup semifinal at Cowboys Stadium:
An Historic Run -- The U.S. is on its way to a fifth straight Gold Cup final and will play for its fifth regional title on Sunday. But this run is now bigger than just one more game and one more trophy.
The U.S. has won a record 10 straight games and is dominating the Gold Cup in historic fashion. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team is 5-0-0 heading into Sunday's final, scoring 16 goals and yielding just three. Only Costa Rica, in the last match of the group stage, presented any sort of challenge. And that difficulty was thanks largely to the Ticos' five-man back line and minimal interest in attacking.
We are witnessing the most impressive single-tournament performance in national team history. The U.S. is blowing through opponents at will, many of whom appear to be operating in first gear. It's like watching the American women.
Those numbers will be a footnote if the U.S. fails to finish the job at Soldier Field, and dominating in an "off year" Gold Cup certainly doesn't mean as much as a tournament featuring each nation's best teams. But considering where this U.S. program was six months ago, the depth being discovered and the value of creating history in a country still relatively new to the game, Klinsmann and U.S. fans couldn't be asking for anything more.
The Importance of Mental Fitness -- Landon Donovan had two more goals on Wednesday, plus an assist, lifting his Gold Cup total to a ridiculous five and seven, respectively. Eddie Johnson opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a thunderous 18-yard blast and then helped set up Donovan's first with a flick on to midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
Donovan and Johnson are players who many had written off because of questions concerning their focus, maturity or commitment. Now both are contributing to an eye-opening streak and making a very strong case for a spot in Klinsmann's first-choice starting 11.
Their resurgence demonstrates the importance of confidence and clarity when playing at the highest level. After years of constant competition and scrutiny, Donovan needed a few months off to recharge his batteries and rediscover his love for the game. Some saw that as a betrayal, others as a sign of weakness. For Donovan, it was an investment in his long-term health that clearly is paying dividends.
Johnson, whose confidence was bludgeoned by a difficult three years in Europe, didn't play at all in the second half of 2011 and then was criticized by Puebla FC when a deal with the Mexican club fell through. His reputation suffered. But he was welcomed with open arms by the Seattle Sounders last season and given the opportunity to resurrect his career in a supportive and positive environment. The results are clear. He has five goals for the U.S. since returning to the national team, all in official competition.
Donovan told Fox Soccer following Wednesday's game that he's having as much fun "as I've ever had." It shows.
Said Johnson, "I've worked hard. It started in Seattle last year. [Coach Sigi Schmid] gave me a second chance to play the sport that I love....To get a chance to play for the national team is something you don't want to take for granted."
Klinsmann's Final Fate -- The U.S. coach was sent to the showers late in the second half by Costa Rican referee Walter Quesada, who allowed the game to get a bit too chippy for Klinsmann's liking. Whether the manager spends the final in a Soldier Field suite or on the bench now will be left to CONCACAF's disciplinary committee.
The potential loss of Klinsmann's motivational impact on the sideline and in the locker room could present an interesting challenge to a group of players that clearly has learned to react to it. Klinsmann's chief assistant, Martin Vasquez, is far more reserved and possesses a very different communication style. How the U.S. responds to that new voice could play a role in how it handles the big stage at Soldier Field.