By Michael Lewis
BALTIMORE -- The United States has at least one true CONCACAF Gold Cup believer in its corner -- El Salvador head coach Agustin Castillo.
The 50-year-old left the M&T Bank Stadium field impressed with the play of the Americans, who eliminated his team via a 5-1 quarterfinal win Sunday.
"They're a very good team," he said at the post-match press conference. "They can almost play by memory. They can find their spaces. It seems that every time they passed the ball into space, it was going to nobody and somebody appears and actually meets the ball. It's a memory type of movement. They also have a very good small space give and go type of play. Good work and good movement. Every time they have a play, they find two or three different plays to break you down.
"They're also going through a very good time. To me, they are the best team I have seen in the tournament and certainly a candidate to win it all."
The Americans have been difficult to stop. They have won their opening four matches by a combined score of 16-3. They also have won nine consecutive games in all competitions -- a U.S. record -- and will try to make it a perfect 10 when they take on Honduras in the semifinals in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been pleased with the performances thus far of his team.
"What we're trying to do is catch up with big teams in the world," he said. "It's to raise the bar. It's all about speed. I'm not talking about physical speed. I'm talking about mental speed, passing speed, about compactness, about going both ways. That's what we're working on. You can see the players are trying to keep the tempo high, trying to win the ball quickly, one-two touches. And hopefully creating chances. ... This is a process. And I think this is a process that is coming along -- with both groups; the group that was in there in May-June and the group that is in July."
Midfielder Landon Donovan, who has not taken part in any hexagonal matches in World Cup Qualifying for Brazil 2014, continued his string of dominant Gold Cup performances in the quarterfinal win. He scored one goal and set up three others against El Salvador, giving him three goals and seven assists in the tournament.
If Klinsmann thought that Donovan had played his way back into consideration for upcoming World Cup qualifiers, he wasn't telling.
“For us, we take it one game at a time," he said. "Landon proved today how valuable he is and how he can make a difference. For us as coaches, it’s important to see who is a difference maker out there, who when maybe things go a little bit the wrong way they take the game on their feet. Landon was one of those players.”
So was Eddie Johnson, who scored only 14 seconds after he replaced Chris Wondolowski in the 60th minute. The Seattle Sounders forward headed home a Donovan feed.
“That was pretty fast!" Klinsmann said. "We have, obviously depending how the game goes, a couple of things in mind. If the game goes well we want to bring on a new guy to give him minutes and an opportunity, but Eddie was planning to come in at a certain point because we want to get him connected to this group as quickly as possible."