SAN DIEGO, CA - The focus was mostly on Landon Donovan after the all-time leading U.S. scorer shook off his controversial 11-month absence from the national team by scoring two goals in Friday’s 6-0 drubbing of overmatched and underprepared Guatemala. But the obvious storyline -- redemption -- extended well beyond the three-time World Cup star.
Like Donovan, fellow U.S. vets Herculez Gomez, Stuart Holden, Oguchi Onyewu, Brek Shea, Jose Torres and Chris Wondolowski also came into the match with much to prove, and each of them ended up playing a role in the rout.
Gomez, who lost his starting spot with the first string this spring due to a minor knee injury, popped up to score the opener off a pass from Torres.
Holden ran the American midfield for the entire second half -- his longest outing with the Yanks since undergoing multiple knee surgeries over the past two-plus years -- and he set up Donovan’s second strike with a sublime aerial pass that sailed over the heads of four helpless Chapines defenders.
Onyewu’s absence from the team had been longer than Donovan’s even without a self-imposed break from the sport. He helped the U.S. keep a clean sheet. Shea created Alejandro Bedoya’s capper two minutes before full time and displayed the raw athleticism that made the youngster a starter in 2011 before he lost his way last year. Meanwhile, Wondolowski, the two-time MLS Golden Boot winner, scored his first goal in red, white and blue.
“I’ve found a good way to take the pressure off and just enjoy what I’m doing, and I think a lot of us did that tonight,” said Donovan, who notched his 50th and 51st international goals in the win. “We’re all good at what we do, so if we enjoy it and have fun I think we’ll get more results like that.”
The night didn’t start out well. The Americans struggled to maintain possession against a young, inexperienced Guatemala lineup for the first 30 minutes of the game, and they were lucky not to fall behind on at least two early occasions. Looking to unlock the U.S. offense, coach Jurgen Klinsmann moved Donovan from right wing up to forward alongside Gomez, who duly found the net three minutes before halftime.
“It took a long time until Herc scored that first goal,” Klinsmann said in his postgame news conference. “And then obviously things opened up.”
But even though it was Donovan with the two goals, Holden might have been the main difference-maker for the Yanks in the second half.
“I was really enjoying the game tonight -- I almost didn’t want it to end at 90 minutes,” said Holden, who spent the end of May and most of June training with the first string, making cameo appearances against Belgium and Panama. “I felt like I was connecting on a lot of passes. My touches felt really sharp.”
None was better than his assist on Donovan’s second.
“I thought he was fantastic,” Donovan said. “I think we can all agree that that’s as good as he’s looked since he’s been back.”
As prolific as Wondolowski has been in MLS in recent years, he’s been haunted at international level by a point-blank miss in the 2011 Gold Cup. Now, thanks to one buried chance that came off a broken play between Donovan and Holden, he heads into the 2013 edition full of confidence.
Wondolowski got off the mark in the victory.
“It’s just a dream come true,” the San Jose forward said of his first U.S. strike. “As a goal scorer you have to just build momentum, and that’s a huge one to get on the board.”
Friday’s win was the most decisive of the Klinsmann era, and because the match served as the Americans’ lone pre-tourney tuneup, it was also a crucial one before Tuesday’s group-stage opener against Belize.
When it was over, Donovan’s redemption was the predictable, appropriate narrative -- even if the same one also applied elsewhere around the field.
“It was great to see all the old faces back -- myself included,” said acting captain DaMarcus Beasley, another once-forgotten veteran who only returned to the fold himself in March. “It’s great that everybody is getting back on their feet and back into form. Jurgen sees that, and he’s giving everyone an opportunity.”
- When Holden came on to start the second half, the public address announcer at Qualcomm Stadium managed to mistakenly introduce him as “Stacy” Holden. “You try not to hear that stuff in the game, but when it was announced it was hard not to kind of laugh,” Holden said. “The guys were all laughing about it on the bench. I was thinking: ‘He better correct it.’” About a minute later, he did.
- Injured winger Josh Gatt (knee) will be officially replaced on the U.S Gold Cup roster Sunday. But because teams don’t have to submit their final 23-man squads until 24 hours before their first match, there’s some confusion over whether the Yanks will be able to add a player to the original 35-player preliminary list that they could then select for the tournament. Stay tuned.
- Former U.S. Under-17 stars Beasley and Donovan, now both 31, have been teammates for more than half their lives. The pair shared a special moment after Donovan potted goal No. 50 from the penalty spot. “I told him: ‘Welcome back,’” Beasley said. “It was great to see him score his 50th. He’s done a lot for U.S. soccer, so he definitely deserved it.”