ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe Landon Donovan was right after all. Maybe he really did need a three-month winter vacation to take his game to a higher level.
We’ll never know for sure what would have happened had he not taken a break this year to restore his passion for soccer. But we do know that, after he did, he’s come back playing as well as he has at any time in his career.
And that’s saying something considering he went into his sabbatical as arguably the greatest player in U.S. soccer history.
Donovan was at his most dominant Wednesday, scoring twice and adding an assist to lead the U.S. to a 3-1 dismantling of Honduras in a Gold Cup semifinal at a packed Cowboys Stadium. The victory extends the Americans’ win streak to a record 10 matches and sends them on to Sunday’s title game in Chicago against the winner of Wednesday’s second semifinal between Panama and Mexico.
The U.S. may have gotten there without Donovan; it was clearly the dominant team in the tournament, scoring 19 goals while giving up just four in its five wins. But Donovan certainly made it easier with his five goals and seven assists giving him a hand in more than half the U.S. scores.
And before he came out in the 72nd minute Wednesday, he was the only American to play every minute of every game, making his leadership qualities almost as important as his scoring -- one reason why teammates hoisted him in the air while celebrating his first-half goal, which gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Even U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann -- the person Donovan is most interested in impressing -- has taken note. After Donovan’s winter break, Klinsmann said he would have to earn his way back into consideration for a spot on the World Cup team.
Consider that done.
“For us coaches, it’s important to see a difference-maker out there who, when maybe things go a little bit the wrong way, they take the game on their feet,” Klinsmann said after the quarterfinals. “Landon was one of those players.”
Using their fifth lineup in as many Gold Cup matches, the speedy Americans went ahead to stay in the 11th minute when Eddie Johnson, starting for the first time in the tournament, ran on to a pretty Donovan pass up the middle, then beat Honduran keeper Donis Escobar cleanly from inside the 18-yard box.
Donovan doubled the margin in the 27th minute, chesting down Alejandro Bedoya’s volley over the head of Honduran defender Brayan Beckeles, then redirecting the ball into the net with his right foot.
Honduras got back in the match briefly -- very briefly -- when Nery Medina skied over Bedoya and Clarence Goodson to head home Marvin Chavez’s free kick. But Bedoya and Goodson helped get that goal back a minute later, with Bedoya running under a Goodson pass at the end line, then sending a cross toward the middle for Donovan, who used his left foot to one-touch it in off the hop.
The goal was Donovan’s fifth of the tournament, giving him a share of the lead with teammate Chris Wondolowski. It was also his 18th career Gold Cup goal in six tournaments.
No other player can match those figures either.