The US has made its way into the semi-finals of the Gold Cup, but if they want to win the whole thing or even advance to the final they are going to need to play much better than they have thus far in the tournament. Many thought that with the addition of the regulars like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley that the US would basically steamroll El Salvador. While the US did get a 2-0 win, it was far from comfortable as El Salvador had their fair share of chances. The task now gets much more difficult for the US as they prepare for a semi-final against Costa Rica.
The theme thus far for the US at this year’s Gold Cup has been underwhelming performances and Wednesday against El Salvador was no different. Now, several factors must not go overlooked. First off, this was the first game together for the regulars and the “B” squad guys so chemistry was always going to be an issue. Secondly, El Salvador employed some very underhanded tactics to frustrate the US players, including biting several players and twisting Jozy Altidore’s nipples (their excuse for this was something along the lines of that’s just how things are done in El Salvador). All of that nonsense aside, the US should still have been better. One area of concern is that both goals were score by defenders and the forwards made very little contribution (in fact the last three US goals at this tournament have been score by defenders). Omar Gonzalez grabbed his second of the tournament off a wonderful free kick by Michael Bradley and then Eric Lichaj got his first international goal with the best finish of any US player this tournament (though Gyasi Zardes did have a beautifully finished goal incorrectly ruled offside). It should also be noted that while the US was not fantastic by any means, this was the second straight game where they kept a clean sheet and score multiple goals.
While the US has played well below their potential thus far it hasn’t had to be at its best to get to the semi-finals. Such is the forgiving format of the Gold Cup and CONCACAF in general. Just as a loss or two in World Cup Qualifying (the Hex) doesn’t doom any team, a bad performance here or there in the Gold Cup doesn’t preclude a team from getting to the semi-finals. However, once the semi-finals get going it’s generally teams that deserve to be there and if the US doesn’t bring their best or comes out flat, they’ll be heading out early (see 2015 Gold Cup semi-final against Jamaica).