U.S. national soccer team’s run impresses even Landon Donovan
ARLINGTON, Texas — Landon Donovan has seen a lot of soccer, having played in three World Cups, won five Major League Soccer titles and scored more goals and registered more assists than any player in U.S. history.
But he has never seen anything like the tear the national team has been on the last three weeks, with the Americans scoring 22 goals in five wins heading into Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal against Honduras at Cowboys Stadium.
“I’ve never been part of a run like this,” said Donovan, who scored five of those goals and assisted on six others. “It’s a lot of fun, not only the goals, but we’re creating lots of chances and that’s enjoyable.”
That’s unlikely to continue Wednesday, though. With the Gold Cup down to its final four — Mexico meets Panama in a rematch of the tournament opener in the second semifinal — the play tends to get conservative. Plus the teams will have to deal with a makeshift field after CONCACAF officials covered Cowboys Stadium’s regular artificial surface with natural grass, the last blade of which was laid down Sunday afternoon.
The grass looked lumpy and uneven during Tuesday’s training sessions. And with the field four meters narrower than a standard soccer pitch, the corners will be particularly tight for any player attempting a corner kick.
“Whatever it is, both teams have to play on it,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “So we always make the best out of it. There’s no complaints on our end.”
If anything, there will be compliments when Klinsmann uses the field as a teaching moment, just as he has used every other obstacle his team has faced this year.
He challenged them to win a game in a snowstorm and they did. Then he challenged them to win another in nearly 100-degree heat and they did that.
They have won on turf, on grass, on the road and at home — nine wins in a row overall, a national team record the U.S. will put on the line Wednesday.
The first four of those wins came from Klinsmann’s “A” team, which sits atop the table more than halfway through the regional World Cup qualifying tournament that resumes in September. For the Gold Cup, the U.S., like the other four teams also involved in World Cup qualifying, called up a “B” team made up mostly of domestic-based players.
Donovan was banished to the “B” team after his self-imposed winter sabbatical left Klinsmann questioning his commitment. But given the way the Galaxy forward has played in the tournament, Klinsmann certainly can’t doubt his talent or fitness.
Nor his leadership: The coaching staff has teamed Donovan with a different lineup each game, yet the U.S. has averaged 4.5 goals a match.
“There’s really good chemistry in this group,” Donovan said. “For whatever reason, it’s a group that’s come together really well and meshed really well. And we understand each other. There’s been a lot of different combinations, a lot of different lineups. But the guys sort of understand their roles very well and we’ve all sort of fit together seamlessly.”
None of that will mean much if the U.S. fails to reach Sunday’s Gold Cup final. Although the Americans haven’t won the tournament in six years, they have failed to reach the title game only once since 2000 — and in the last three finals, Mexico has been the team waiting for them.
But Mexico will have a tough test of its own Wednesday against Panama, which dominated a sloppy El Tri in a 2-1 victory in the Gold Cup opener. That was Mexico’s only loss in the tournament; Panama remains unbeaten after beating Cuba, 6-1, in the quarterfinals.
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