BALTIMORE – The United States men's national soccer team is well accustomed to feeling like the visiting team in its own country. From coast to coast, expatriate fans of North and Central American rivals routinely fill big American stadiums when their home countries come to visit. Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal against El Salvador was no different.
U.S. star Landon Donovan is well accustomed to silencing such raucous gatherings. And in that way, too, Sunday's game was no different.
Donovan had a role in all of his team's goals in a 5-1 win over El Salvador at a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium. The victory sent the Americans on to Wednesday's semifinals, where they'll face Honduras at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (7:00 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/UniMás).
When Donovan took a four-month sabbatical over the winter, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann dropped him from the national team. Klinsmann challenged Donovan to use the Gold Cup as his ticket back into the squad. As Sunday's performance showed, Donovan has clearly stepped up to the task.
"Landon again proved today how valuable he is, and how he can make a difference," Klinsmann said.
It took just over 20 minutes for Donovan to help get the U.S. on the board. After receiving a short corner kick from Jose Francisco Torres, Donovan laid the ball back to Michael Parkhurst, then sped up the right wing. Parkhurst returned the ball to Donovan, who fed a sharp pass to Clarence Goodson for a close-range finish.
Seven minutes later, Donovan started the play that created the second goal. He gave a short pass to Chris Wondolowski, who fed Joe Corona at the top of the 18-yard box. After some fancy footwork sent a Salvadoran defender sliding to the ground, Corona fired a low shot home.
The wide swaths of blue across the stadium fell silent, while the American fans around them celebrated loudly. Over the course of the afternoon, the crowd of 70,540 turned more in the U.S.' favor as Donovan and company turned on the style.
"My experience with these games is [fans] show up with El Salvador jerseys on, and once we score a few goals, they rip them off and have USA jerseys on," Donovan said. "I think in the end they just wanted to see a good game, and we wanted to give them a good game."
El Salvador's lone goal came from star forward Rodolfo Zelaya in the 39th minute. He danced past three American defenders in the 18-yard box, won a penalty kick and converted it with a deft chip over American goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It was the only blemish on a strong performance by Rimando. He made four saves in the game, including an impressive double-stop in the 26th minute.
The Americans regained momentum in the 60th minute. Barely 30 seconds after entering the game as a substitute, Eddie Johnson met a Donovan cross from a short corner kick with a ferocious header. That made the score 3-1, all but ending El Salvador's hopes of an upset.
Donovan added a goal to his assist haul in the 78th minute. With a trademark burst of speed up the middle, he latched on to a flick from Johnson and rounded Salvadoran goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo for an easy finish.
It was the 54th career national team goal for Donovan, the U.S.' all-time leading scorer. He slid to the turf with his arms raised to the sky, soaking in the crowd's cheers and a sudden rainstorm.
"I'm just having a lot of fun," Donovan said. He added that Sunday was his mother's 60th birthday, and he wanted to score to mark the occasion.
Donovan capped off the afternoon with his third assist, setting up Mix Diskerud for the game's final goal in the 84th minute.
That gave Donovan 54 career assists with the national team, matching his haul of goals. Just as importantly, it was one more chapter in the message Donovan has sent to American soccer throughout the Gold Cup. When the national team calls, he's still got what it takes to answer.