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USA vs. El Salvador, Gold Cup: Final Score 2-0 as Yanks Survive Turnovers and Poor Sportsmanship

Goals from Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj lift the USMNT over Los Cuscatlecos.

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup-USA  at El Salvador Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Men’s National Team beat El Salvador 2-0 in Philadelphia, but the final score was expected. What was not expected were bites, pinches, and punches, but the game had it all. From Arena’s perspective, his team’s performance was too sloppy, and turnovers could have been the Yanks’ demise but the U.S. moves into the semifinals against Costa Rica on Saturday.

The U.S. was expected to come in and dominate the game, while El Salvador was also expected to put up a fight, but it was back and forth action to start. Three minutes in, Eric Lichaj made a horrendous error. With plenty of time he attempted a back-pass to Tim Howard, but it was an awful ball. Rodolfo Zelaya got an easy takeaway and went one-on-one with Howard. The ‘keeper showed his usual magic, though, and kept the game scoreless.

The Yanks took a corner four minutes later, and Clint Dempsey and Matt Hedges both should have scored, but some last ditch defense kept it scoreless.

El Salvador immediately went on the counter. Los Cuscatlecos had a few chances and ended up winning a free kick. Alexander Larin received the pass all alone just inside the box, but the traffic in the area caused no room for the ball to get through. Just 10 minutes into this contest, and it could easily have been 2-0 to El Salvador.

After the first 15 minutes, the game started to get chippy. There were numerous off-the-ball fouls, cards started coming out, and players were hitting the ground. El Salvador was happy with this strategy as it kept the U.S. away from goal-scoring opportunities and kept frustrating the Yanks, who struggled to connect passes.

Around the half hour mark, things went from ugly to uglier. The officiating became inconsistent, and, honestly, just flat out poor. The ref sometimes called advantage, other times did not. Gyasi Zardes was about two yards onside, but was called off. El Salvador players started dropping like flies and wasting time and the referee played right into it.

In the 41st minute things finally turned around for the U.S., which scored off a perfectly placed free kick. Michael Bradley took the ball and his service fell to the head of Omar Gonzalez, who scored his second in two games.

Five minutes later, Lichaj netted his first career goal and doubled the Yanks’ lead. A perfect pass from Dempsey and a perfect run from the defender ended with Derby Carrillo getting beat in the five-hole.

After a frustrating half, the Americans finally found a way to break through and were up by two goals after the first 45. The U.S. held 64% possession and had double the amount of shots. The last five minutes aside, Arena was disappointed with the performance. His team’s passing was completely underwhelming, and Dempsey was leading in that front. Luckily, two late goals changed his halftime talk.

To start the second half, the U.S. came out hoping to get a quick goal, but a Matt Hedges giveaway led to this chance for El Salvador:

More controversy came around the 57th minute. The U.S. had a corner and Jozy was standing next to the ‘keeper. Henry Romero came and “defended” the U.S. veteran. Romero’s version of defending differs from the typical athlete though, as he used a bite to Jozy’s back to bring the forward down. As Altidore went to the ground, Romero gave him a good o’fashion purple nurple. The referee once again missed this, and the offense went uncalled.

A few minutes later Jordan Morris was substituted on and immediately made a run into the box but stopped mid-run and doubled over after being punched in the stomach.

After this, the game started to change some. The Yanks lost some of their momentum and Los Cuscatlecos pushed forward trying to get back into the match. In the 73rd minute, another U.S. turnover resulted in an El Salvador chance, but Bradley made a perfect run to stop the attack.

The U.S. was able to settle down and truly take control of the match. The defense bent a few times, but would not break. The performance for the U.S. was not pretty, and there is no doubt that against a better team the defense would have broken. There were many bad giveaways that will need to be fixed for the semifinals.

The officiating in this game was poor, but the sportsmanship from El Salvador was unacceptable. CONCACAF should come back and look at this match, as there could have been at least three red cards and double the five yellow cards that were given.

The U.S. play again on Saturday against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semifinals. Pregame starts at 10 p.m. ET on FS1.