The United States’ Clint Dempsey, right, battles El Salvador’s Darwin Ceren during a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match July 19 in Philadelphia. (Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images)
The U.S. is heading to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the ninth straight time, riding first-half goals from Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj to a chippy 2-0 win over El Salvador on Wednesday.
The U.S., unbeaten in 12 games under coach Bruce Arena, will play Costa Rica on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. The Central Americans advanced to the semifinals for just the second time in 14 years with a 1-0 winner over Panama in Wednesday’s first quarterfinal.
Arena added five starters to his lineup for the knockout round after cruising through group play unbeaten and the U.S., playing before an announced crowd of 31,615, struggled for cohesion for most of the first half. Gonzalez eventually gave them the only goal they would need, however, getting on the end of a long Michael Bradley free kick and heading it in the 41st minute.
Bradley, making his debut in this Gold Cup, led the former Galaxy defender into the penalty area with a low line drive that Gonzalez ran under before outjumping Salvadoran captain Darwin Ceren to nod the ball over keeper Derby Carrillo for his third international goal.
Lichaj doubled the advantage two minutes into first-half stoppage time, taking a deft feed from Clint Dempsey – who created space by spinning away from Salvadoran defender Henry Romero – settling the ball with his right foot, then sending it through Carrillo’s legs with his left.
The goal was Lichaj’s first for the national team.
Both goalkeepers made big plays in the early going. Tim Howard, one of six players added to the U.S. roster on Sunday, charged well off his line to smother a breakaway attempt by Rodolfo Zelaya in the fourth minute. The Salvadoran forward jumped a soft back pass from Lichaj that was slowed by the wet grass, but Howard came out to meet him, sliding feet first into Zelaya at the edge of the box to break up the play.
Howard turned back three shots on the night to post the shutout, extending the U.S. scoreless streak to 196 minutes.
Carrillo, an All-American at Cal State Dominguez Hills, made seven saves in the first half, beginning in the seventh minute when he stopped attempts from both Gonzalez and Lichaj after a U.S. corner. Then in the 16th minute, he dove backward to get a hand on a soft left-footed shot from Jozy Altidore.
A minute later Carrillo got some welcome help when the assistant referee disallowed a Gyasi Zardes’ goal, ruling that the Galaxy forward was just a hair offside – a call video replays showed may have been incorrect.
In the second half the game turned physical with the Salvadorans, who haven’t beaten the U.S. in 17 games and 25 years, taking their frustrations out on their opponents and getting rewarded with three yellow cards in the final 31 minutes.
The victory, the Americans’ ninth straight in a Gold Cup semifinals, lifted Arena’s record in the tournament to 17-1-5. For the Central Americans, the appearance in the quarterfinals equaled their best-ever performance in the Gold Cup.
In the first game Costa Rica, a World Cup finalist in 2014, got the only goal it needed in the 77th minute on an odd sequence involving two MLS players. It started with David Guzman, who plays for the Portland Timbers, sending a long free kick into the penalty area. Panama’s Anibal Godoy, a midfielder for the San Jose Earthquakes, leapt to head the ball out of danger but redirected it into his own net instead, sending Panama home short of the Gold Cup’s final four for the first time since 2009.
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