Wondolowski and Donovan Dominate in Gold Cup Opener
By Philip Mitchell
The Rose City was the host city for the United States Men’s National Team started off their 2013 Gold Cup campaign in an old fashioned drubbing over Belize 6 goals to 1. The night was full of great stories but striker Chris Wondolowski stole the show with a first half hat trick while Landon Donovan, as usual, showed why he is still the greatest American Soccer player in history.
The game on paper pretty much indicated that Belize had virtually no chance of winning the match. Most of the players for Belize play domestically in their home country. A few of them, including their starting goalkeeper Shane Orio play professional in Honduras. With that said the diverse roster the US boasted was more than likely to dominate while Belieze would struggle. Some could have argued even scoring a goal was going to be Belize’s hardest task, however they did earn one in the 39th minute. Off of a corner kick, Ian Gaynair was able to sneak his way through the back line of defense and directed the ball with his head into the goal. American defender Michael Parkhurst was the closest to him and based on replay he was a victim of ball watching. This made the match’s scoreline at that time 2 to 1 and to the reaction of the fans of Belize it was game on.
Despite giving up the goal, the US was able to reply quickly. In about a minute, Wondolowski scored his third of the match off of a cross from Parkhurst very close to the goal. It was done with a bit of acrobatics as he flew himself in front of his defender and was able to knock it in while Belize’s goalkeeper was diving in the opposite direction. This essentially sent the message to the opposition. This goal basically said that this was game and set and nearly match as well, but there was an entire half left to play.
When the second half began, Klinsmann only made one change to the line up. Kyle Beckerman was swapped for Stuart Holden. This made sense. Beckerman was a liability for committing fouls. Some of them that match referee Hector Rodriguez called were pretty soft but it was evident that Beckerman’s style of defense could be problematic. His ball distribution was superb during the half. The right side of the pitch was exposed for most of his time on the pitch. DeMarcus Beasley’s presence on the left was a focus that caused Belize to leave the back door open and Beckerman was easily able to get the ball to a charging Parkurst or Joe Corona with ease. Holden would do much of the same during the second half and his presence also eliminated that threat of committing fouls, increased the tempo of the match as well as scoring a goal.
If the first half were the “Wondolowski Show,” the second half would become Landon Donovan’s. For most of the first half, it was easy to see the frustration on Donovan’s face for not being able to break down the back line of Belize’s defense. Indeed the team was able to off of Wondo’s hat trick but one could easily see that Landon wanted to join in on the fun.
Around the 57th minute, Landon got his chance to shine. Off of a cross from Joe Corona, he was able to spot a charging Stuart Holden. Instead of attempting to take a shot on goal with his head, he set up Holden. Stuart did not think twice. He smashed it in and was able to score for the national team for the first time in nearly four years. The goal had a bit of history for Donovan. It was his 50th assist for the national team and it officially made him the leader in that category as well for the Nats, but he and the rest of the lads were not done. He assisted Michael Orozco Fiscal’s 72nd goal and scored a penalty in the 75th to wrap up the match and to finish with 51 goals and assists for the United States.
The control of the ball was dominant for the United States. At the end of the match, they would complete 9 passes for every turnover while for Belize it was 2 passes. In addition, 89% of the 636 passes the United States attempted was completed compared to 70% of the 216 passes that Belize was able to attempt. They consistently were penetrating the final third of the pitch and were able to fire off 26 shots to Belize’s 7 and were able to win 8 corner kicks in the process.
One part of the strategy that Klinsmann established was a form of attack that was designed to be wing play with over lap passes. Some may call this old fashioned but it worked. It led to 38 open play crosses and all but one of the goals was derived off of a cross that resulted in a shot on frame that was scored or cleaned up after a save or a block.
This may have worked against Belize and it may work against Cuba but could it work against Costa Rica or Mexico? It could but for the US to face Mexico, they need to earn their way out of group play, which they should. Costa Rica however will be an epic match not to miss. They have a roster that consists of MLS players such as Rodney Wallace (Portland), Roy Miller (New York), Alvaro Soborio (Real Salt Lake) and Jairo Arrieta (Columbus).
But with this romp can the coaching staff take any negatives away as feedback to improve? Sometimes in huge wins such as this and the game last week against Guatamala, both games the US scored 6 goals, it is really hard to find things to correct. Typically the team you played was poor and it is hard to really measure when you have competition that consists of players that are not of the came caliber. But there is one thing that the US can take a look at. Set plays.
The US failed to keep a clean sheet for the match and the goal was scored off of a free kick that was somewhat like a corner kick from distance. The defensive awareness was not there and no one seemed to attack the ball to clear it from the penalty box. If anything, this was the only real negative or form of feedback head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will focus on cleaning up before the team’s next match in Sandy, Utah against Cuba on Saturday the 13th of July. Perhaps committing silly fouls will be discussed, however that is totally at the hands of the referee.
Finishing could be another element to take a look at. As mentioned earlier, the US was able to get off 26 shots. 20 of them were either blocked by a defender, saved by the keeper or off frame. Imagine if a few of the shots, similar to Jose Torres’ close miss were on frame. It could have been as high as 8 or 9 goals for the US. But this is kind of a luxury when you start really analyzing the stats and the games will only get harder for the US during the rest of the competition.
So what is your take on the match? Was it as dominating as it should or was the best this squad could do? Some say that the goal by Belize should be the story of the match. Is that true? It was their first ever goal scored in the Gold Cup. What about Landon? Is he really the best player America has ever played for the Nats? Let me know and make sure to check out the remaining matches of the Gold Cup. There are plenty of quality teams and players to check out. Especially on Saturday when the USA take on Cuba.