The United States Men's National Team resumes play in the 2013 Gold Cup today against El Salvador.
While both teams made it to the quarterfinals, both took very different routes to get there. The USA rolled through Group C, winning all three of their matches vs. Belize, Cuba and Costa Rica. El Salvador need a win over Haiti in their third group game to advance, and Rodolfo Zelaya fired home in the 76th minute to send La Selecta through as one of the two third place qualifiers.
The USA made four changes to their Gold Cup Roster before the knockout stages per CONCACAF rules, while El Salvador is sticking with their original roster. The additions for the USA are substantial, with first team centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Belser called back into the squad (Gonzalez joining the squad for the USA's potential semifinal match) along with the versatile Eddie Johnson and bruising striker Alan Gordon.
While the USA played well in the group stages, they were far from perfect. Nick Rimando, who was largely untested in the first two games and conceded a goal in each, was benched in favor of Sean Johnson in goal for the key game vs. Costa Rica. Jurgen Klinsmann also hasn't settled on a specific formation yet in the tournament, at times sticking with his preferred 4-2-3-1 but also moving Landon Donovan up top in a 4-4-2 and trying to get some of his more creative players on the field.
Regardless of the formation, the USA will have to be wary of El Salvador, particularly Rodolfo Zelaya, their leading and only scorer in the tournament with three goals in the competition. They have a stout defense that's only allowed three goals in this tournament and held of Honduras for over ninety minutes before conceding in stoppage time. Oh, and El Salvador knocked the USA out of the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers last summer with a late equalizing goal.
There should be enough offensive firepower in the USA lineup to prove the difference, particularly with Landon Donovan running the show in the midfield. The partner ship of Stuart Holden and Mix Diskerud at times has been outstanding while Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Alejandro Bedoya and Jose Torres have all made contributions in various midfield roles.
While the USA certainly is the favorite on paper, there will likely be a large Salvadorean crowd in Baltimore due to the large number of Salvadoreans in the greater Baltimore/Maryland area. The 71,000 seat M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL's Ravens, is sold out for the two quarterfinals today.
The winners of today's match will meet in the second semifinal and join Panama and Mexico in Dallas.