U.S. powers past El Salvador, 5-1, to advance to Gold Cup semifinals


BALTIMORE — After Juergen Klinsmann took over as coach of the U.S. national soccer team nearly two years ago, the positive results were not immediate. As recently as late May, when the Americans lost a friendly to Belgium, there were questions about whether the former German star and coach was a good fit.

Although the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup is clearly not the World Cup in terms of competition or worldwide significance, Klinsmann’s imprint is becoming apparent as the U.S. continues to blow out its mostly overwhelmed opponents.

Sunday’s 5-1 rout of El Salvador before a pro-Salvadoran sellout crowd of 70,540 at M&T; Bank Stadium was the latest example of the progress the U.S. has made under Klinsmann this summer.

The Americans silenced the crowd — think of Steelers fans gobbling up most of the seats for a Ravens home game — with two early goals, overcame a questionable penalty kick that cut their lead in half by intermission and put the match away shortly after Klinsmann’s first substitution.

“I think it’s important that we sent out the signals right at the beginning of this game,” Klinsmann said of the 2-0 start in the first 30 minutes. “To be honest, the only team that can really lose is us. We all expect, the fans expect, for us to win the game. These teams are not easy to play. That’s why you need to take it very seriously.”

The result was the ninth straight victory for the U.S. — four in the Gold Cup, three in World Cup qualifiers and two wins in friendlies, including one over Klinsmann’s former team — and a spot in Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinals against Honduras at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. Honduras beat Costa Rica, 1-0, at M&T; Bank Stadium.

“We’re trying to catch up with the big teams in the world, and if you raise the bar, it’s all about speed,” Klinsmann said. “I’m not talking about physical speed. I’m taking about mental speed, passing speed. It’s about compactness, about going both ways the same way with 11 players involved, offensively, defensively. That’s what we’re working on.”

The U.S. took advantage of its early chances, with Clarence Goodson coming up from central defense to score at close range on a feed from Landon Donovan in the 21st minute and U.S. team rookie Joe Corona giving the Americans a 2-0 lead in the 29th minute.

“It was a tough game. . . . The U.S. has a very good team and a very good system,” El Salvador Coach Agustin Castillo said. “When we had our good moments, we were not able to find the back of the net. That’s what made the difference.”

In retrospect, the timing of Klinsmann’s first substitution proved crucial. He took out Chris Wondolowski, the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals, in the 60th minute, then watched as veteran Eddie Johnson scored 14 seconds after taking the field and four days after rejoining the team.

One of the fastest players in U.S. soccer history scored what Klinsmann later said was the fastest goal ever after he made a substitution. It came when Johnson headed in a short corner feed from Donovan past El Salvador goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo.

“That was pretty fast,” Klinsmann said with a smile. “Eddie was planning to come at a certain point because we want to get him reconnected with this group. Wondo deserved to start the game based on what he’s done. It worked out really well.”

Donovan, who scored his 54th goal in 54 games with the national team in the 78th minute and notched his third assist of the game on Mikkel Diskerud’s goal in the 84th minute, said he noticed a change from the crowd immediately after Johnson scored.

“My experience in these games is that they show up with their El Salvador jersey on and once we score a few goals they rip it off and they have a U.S. jersey on,” Donovan said. “The crowd got more and more pro-American as we scored goals. I think in the end they wanted to see a good game and we wanted to give them one.”