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Gold Cup: USA advances past El Salvador in a dirty, chippy affair

El Salvador abandons tactics in favor of hi-jinx but the US gets it done

United States v El Salvador: Quarterfinal - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There have been plenty of games in the US national team’s history where they have been the underdogs. Where they know they are not at the same level of their opponent. I am not a homer, and the US players can get frustrated at times, but I have never seen them stoop to the levels that some Salvadorian players took it to tonight.

With the US sitting on a comfortable 2-0 lead in the second half, the Salvadorian frustration began to build and it manifested itself in their players punching and biting their way through their defensive match-ups. One of the things that is preached by coaches across the world, and especially amongst any teams in CONCACAF is this, keep your cool. There were a number of times were El Salvador was doing everything they could to bait US players into a split second reaction, a retaliation.

The reality is this, without a doubt there should have been a red card in this game. How El Salvador managed to finish the game with 11 men is beyond me. While VAR is still young and somewhat controversial, it would have done wonders to clean this game up when the ref failed to do so. Let’s break down the key moments from this game, as well as what we learned as the US prepares to take on Costa Rica on Saturday in the Gold Cup semi-final.

The defenders are getting it done on offense

The US has scored 9 goals thus far in the Gold Cup, 4 of those goals (45%) have come from defenders. When the US plays its regional rivals it is typical for them to enjoy an advantage on set pieces and corner kicks thanks to their height. However, I cannot remember a time where defenders have scored so many critical goals for the US. What I mean by critical is game winning goals. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga had game winners in the group stage. Tonight, Omar once again scored the game winner off a set piece in the 41st, and Eric Lichaj added the insurance goal in first half stoppage.

It really has been a remarkable run for our defenders, especially when you consider that Omar Gonzalez is tied with Jordan Morris as the top scorer for the team this Gold Cup. This, after Gonzalez had only one national team goal ever heading into this tournament.

The US is leading the pack

I won’t spend a lot of time on this one, because we still need to talk about El Salvador abandoning their self-respect in an attempt to harm our players. There are six main statistical categories that CONCACAF tracks on their website. Of the six, the US is now leading in four of them, Goals (9), Assists (7), Shots (59) and Most Fouls Received (64).

While the US has at times played sloppy, or has lost focus, it is great to see such resounding numbers across the board. Other than the Panama game, the US has always felt in control and the results have never really been in question. It won’t be as easy going forward as they face off against Costa Rica on Saturday, and assuming they win that game, could potentially face Mexico in the final.

El Salvador were about to lose, but they didn’t need to lose their self-respect

It’s pretty easy for me to find and share highlights of the goals the US scores, it isn’t always as easy to find all of the studs up tackles, Luis Suarez-esque bites, and punches to our player’s stomachs. So you will have to trust that I am not being hyperbolic when I say that it got straight up ridiculous.

Exhibit A, Jozy Altidore gets bitten.

Exhibit B, Jordan Allen gets a nice sucker punch and just keeps jogging.

Those were the two most blatant issues, however there were a number of other studs up tackles that warranted at least a yellow, with one instance involving Eric Lichaj where El Salvador should have seen a straight red.

What I found very telling about all of the cheap shots was this, the US never once retaliated. You can never say with certainty if they would have if Jürgen Klinsmann were still at the helm. What I can say with certainty is that Bruce Arena has put together a very disciplined squad that is focused on lifting a cup, not on getting involved in shenanigans.

What’s next?

The other half of the quarterfinal bracket will play tomorrow, with Jamaica facing the up and coming Canadian team at 5:30pm. Canada has the Golden Boot leading Alphonso Davies who is only 16 years of age and enjoying his coming out party in this tournament.

Mexico will then face off against Honduras in the night cap at 8:30pm with the winner playing against the winner of the Jamaica - Canada match in the semi-finals.

The US will play Costa Rica this Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00pm Mountain Time. It will be the toughest test yet for the US as the Ticos are always compact defensively and explosive on the counterattack.