CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The U.S. National Team and Belize kicked off their 2013 Gold Cup with their first international meeting against each other.
In the first game of the 2013 Gold Cup for both teams, there were two missions from the outset: One, to thoroughly dominate the game from end to end and come away with a win representative of the disparity between the nations. Two, to keep the score as close as possible, limit goal differential and possibly search for an upset point.
It was the first mission that was the closest to being accomplished, as the U.S. enjoyed the lion's share of possession and used a dominant midfield to control the play to the tune of the second straight game with a half dozen goals.
Belize's hopes for keeping the game relatively close seemed to be looking good, but it all fell apart eventually. It started in the 12th minute when a Jose Torres cross found Joe Corona's head. The shot was blocked, but fell to the feet of Chris Wondolowski who scored his second goal in as many games, doubling his total with the National Team.
It was Wondolowski for his second in the 37th minute when Kyle Beckerman swung in a nice cross from the right side of the box. The San Jose forward was left open in the box, and his wide open header was easily put past goalkeeper Shane Orio.
With a comfortable first half lead and Belize's bunker looking like it was about to completely burst, everything looked good for the U.S. Unfortunately, complacency on a set piece in the 40th minute brought the team back to reality, as Elroy Smith swung in a free kick from the right side of the box, finding fellow defender Ian Gaynair wide open in the middle of the box, with his defender Michael Parkhurst caught in no-man's land. Gaynair's header easily slipped past Nick Rimando to cut the lead in half.
Parkhurst redeemed himself only a minute later, swinging in a cross from the right side that once again found Wondolowski who completed his first half hat trick with another header, restoring the two goal lead over the Central American nation.
As the teams went into halftime, Belize would have felt the better of the two, being only one defensive lapse away from fighting for a one goal deficit in the second half. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann must have felt the pressure in the locker room, bring out Beckerman and replacing him with Stuart Holden for the start of the second half.
Almost immediately after the restart, Trevor Lennen jumped into a two-footed slide tackle on Mikkel Diskerud. The nasty challenge received only a yellow card, but easily could have been red. Diskerud, fortunate not to be injured in the tackle, was able to resume playing after walking off a limp. Diskerud began to work well with Holden as the game progressed, forming passing combinations with Torres and Corona, almost working a successful triangle with DaMarcus Beasley into a goal in the 57th minute, but Beasley's shot was forced wide.
Diskerud's solid play continued with his containment play, intercepting exit passes in the offensive half of the field, maintaining U.S. possession. One of these plays directly led to Corona gaining possession and swinging in a cross from the right sideline in the 58th minute, finding Landon Donovan at the back post. Donovan headed the ball back to the center of the goal where Holden slammed it home, completing his long come back. The assist was Donovan's 50th in his international career.
In the 61st minute, Brek Shea entered the game for Torres, and in the 66th minute, Alejandro Bedoya entered for Corona.
The 72nd minute brought another goal for the U.S., as Michael Orozco got his head on the end of a Donovan cross. The goal was Orozco's second with the U.S., after scoring the game winning goal in the Azteca last year.
Three minutes later, misfortune struck Belize as a harsh handball was called on Ashley Torres. The ball appeared to strike mostly chest, and the little bit of upper arm that was contacted was incidental. Nevertheless, a penalty kick was called and Donovan stepped up to bury it.
The score held for the final quarter hour as the U.S. maintained possession and worked some attractive passing combinations between the midfield and forwards. The five goal advantage in the scoreline means the U.S. sit atop the group by goal differential, over Costa Rica who defeated Cuba 3-0 earlier in the evening.
Landon Donovan's first assist stretched his assist streak to 13 years; the record-setting face of American soccer has had at least one assist in every year of his National Team career, going back to 2000.
The U.S. will next face Cuba on Saturday, July 13.