As the video camera peered in on Clint Dempsey during the playing of the American National Anthem prior to Wednesday night’s US-El Salvador Gold Cup match, the former MLS star-turned Fulham FC savior stoically peered at the very crowd that cheered him when he first made his Revolution debut just over three years ago. And it was Dempsey, upon his return to the Gillette Stadium pitch, who became an offensive catalyst by constantly finding himself in the attacking mix during the Americans' 4-0 victory over El Salvador.
The U.S. kicked off for the first half in an unconventional in a 3-4-3 formation, and Dempsey was placed in his familiar attacking midfield role. Right off the bat, the US displayed the one-touch passing that helped them go undefeated early on in the first two games of the tournament.
The Salvadorans tempered the U.S. attack with a developing offensive sequence in the 6th minute, causing Tim Howard to smother the ball out of harms way. But by and large, the US controlled the tempo of the match for large chunks of the first half, whereby thsquad surely owned the on the El Salvadoran side of the field.
At the 20 minute mark, Dempsey broke through the El Salvadoran back line and put a wicked side-heeled shot on goal that was stuffed by keeper Miguel Montes. Deuce struck again in the 24th minute when he pulled the trigger on a shot deep within the box that struck the side post. It was clearly evident that the Nacogdoches Kid was determined to take the leading role on this, his former center-stage.
By the 28th minute, the Americans had engineered a string of well-placed passes, patiently weaving through the El Salvadoran half of the pitch, as the El Salvadorans struggled to keep up with the well-organized and exquisitely-executed attack.
Then, in the 33rd minute, for the all the entire display of technical soundness, the U.S. finally beared down on clinching the opening salvo, when it awarded a spot kick on the left flank when DaMarcus Beasley was manhandled on the attack. Although the spot kick failed to materialize into the back of the net, a corner kick was awarded when the ball bounced off an El Salvadoran defender and rolled past the goal line.
Seconds later, Donovan launched an outswinging corner kick into the box that deflected its way to the top of the box and fortuitously fell to the feet of Beasley. Beasley hit the deflection in stride and skipped the ball past the keeper for the opening goal of the match in the 34th minute, giving the Americans the 1-0 lead.
“It was important to get that first goal,” said Beasley, during his post-match press conference. "We knew El Salvador was going to be very compact and difficult to break down."
Throughout the second half, the El Salvadoran side was able to come up for short gasps of air, but the U.S. relentlessly pushed their victim’s head under water time after time in relentless pursuit of conquering their opponent's territory.
In the waning minutes of the first act, the Americans opened up on two simultaneous scoring chances; the first as Donovan raced into the box, stopped halfway, and turned to pass to Beasley at the top of the box in the 43rd minute. Perhaps still pumped over his goals mere minutes before, an excited Beasley launched kick that sailed well over the cross bar into the seats. Seconds later, the Americans re-organized the attack and sent in an odd-man infiltration that featured the speedy Beasley on the left. Beasley took the final pass and floated another shot that sailed over the goal.
Controversy erupted in stoppage time, when Michael Bradley kicked a shot that caught the arm of a El Salvadoran defender planted in the box, to which referee Benito Archundia awarded a penalty kick to the U.S. Donovan took the kick and initially launched the dead ball right into the wall erected by keeper Montes. However, the referee awarded Donovan another try after Archundia determined that the El Salvadoran keeper left the goal line prematurely. On the do-over, Donovan’s second attempt rang true, and the ball coasted into the corner of the net for the 2-0 lead just before halftime.
El Salvador manager Carlos De Los Cobos vehemently protested the call, and was subsequently ejected at the end of the first half for the protest.
“I didn’t think it was a good call,” said the El Salvadoran manager through a translator after the match. “(Archundia) did not like the way I talked to him, but I did not disrespect him.”
The El Salvadorans took the second half kick off determined to, at very least, avoid embarrassment in the second frame, and at very best, tried to block out the morale-deflating call at the end of the first half. Midfielder Julio Martinez enthusiastically clapped and implored his team to pick themselves up in the frame.
A welcome sight at the start of the second half was the emergence of Taylor Twellman who went in as a substitute for Donovan, giving the U.S. side a total of three players on the pitch who sported (past and present) the home Revolution red, white, and blue.
The El Salvadorans wasted little time in trying to stake their flag in the U.S. end, on a couple of less than threatening advancements in the first ten minutes of the half. The U.S. reclaimed their majority ownership of the ball soon there after as they dispossessed their opponent of the ball time after time.
In the 57th minute, U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu stonewalled a hard charging Juan Campos, which resulted in a scary collision just before the box. For said stonewalling, a yellow card was issued to the 6-4 defender, and the El Salvadorans were awarded a free kick – their first set piece of the match. Alfredo Pacheco took the spot kick, and laced a left-footed shot just wide of goal, giving his side its first true scoring chance.
As the bright lights of the Gillette Stadium light towers shone upon the field, the U.S. hunkered down on a zone-like defense. Although De Los Cobos’ boys seemed to discover better chances in the U.S. end due to a “bend but not break” defensive mindset, the El Salvadoran attack ultimately wilted every time.
The ES tried its best to muster the kind of scoring chances the US did almost at will. In the 72nd, ES Jose Martinez raced through his defender, turned, and launched a rocket just over the cross the bar, giving the El Salvadorans a rare chance to, at very least, smash the hopes of a shut out for the Americans.
In the 73rd, the US counterattacked yet again when Brian Ching ran up the heart of the El Salvadoran half. Just as the defenders converged upon him, he sent a perfect pass to Taylor Twellman who took a touch, and calmly glided toward goal before sending the ball past the keeper for the third American goal of the match, in front of his home Revolution crowd.
The remainder of the match became, for all intents and purposes, a game of high-stakes “keep away” on the part of the U.S. players, as the Americans performed well in this popular elementary school exercise for the remainder. Seemingly uncontent to sit on their three-goal advantage, an interesting sequence materialized in the 81st minute when Dempsey tried to join his former teammate Twellman appearance on the goal sheet by rendering a majestic shot across the box that was deflected away by the paw of keeper Montes.
With two minutes of stoppage time added to the second half, the Americans gave one more go at goal. In 90th minute, Ching again crashed the left flank and served the ball to Clint Dempsey, who then immediately passed to his immediate right in directly the path of a gate-crashing Beasley. Beasley took the pass in stride and sent in a ground laser into the goal for his second goal of the match just before extra time commenced. Seconds later, the toot of the final whistle shrieked, as the Americans won in convincing fashion, 4-0, thus earning them CONCACAF Gold Cup Group B Title.
“(It was) a good win for us. It’s especially nice that when the game opened up in the second half, to see some of the soccer that we put together," said manager Bob Bradley after the match.