After a relative stroll through the group stage and quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States men’s soccer team might face a stiffer test Wednesday in the semifinals.
The U.S. plays Honduras in Arlington, Texas. In the other semifinal, Mexico plays Panama, also Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium.
Through three group-stage games and a 5-1 rout of El Salvador in the quarters on Sunday, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 16-3, pushing its winning streak to a national-record nine games. The opposition — Belize, Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador — hasn’t offered much resistance, even for a U.S. squad containing many second-teamers.
However, the U.S. team doesn’t need a long memory to realize that Honduras can be a dangerous opponent. Honduras defeated the United States 2-1 in San Pedro Sula on Feb. 6 in the opening game of the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying. The U.S. won the rematch 1-0 in Sandy, Utah, on June 18.
Those games were played with the teams’ top talent, as opposed to the Gold Cup, in which teams are resting many mainstays. However, the U.S. Gold Cup squad features the country’s all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan, who is attempting to work his way back to the “A” team after a self-imposed sabbatical.
Donovan and many of his Gold Cup teammates are trying to prove they deserve to be part of the team that will continue World Cup qualifying in September in hopes of playing on the big stage in Brazil next summer.
Donovan has been arguably the U.S. team’s best player in the tournament to date. Against El Salvador, he scored a goal and added three assists.
“We’re getting more and more comfortable, and the beauty of it is, we can score and create chances in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Obviously our set pieces have been very good. When we move the ball quickly and break teams down through the middle of the field, we’ve had chances that way.”
U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski has a tournament-high five goals, a record for an American player in a single Gold Cup.
Honduras reached the semifinals thanks to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Sunday behind an Andy Najar goal in the 49th minute. Los Catrachos finished atop Group B in the group phase, beating Haiti 2-0 and El Salvador 1-0 before losing 2-0 to Trinidad and Tobago. Honduras’ four goals have been scored by four players.
The U.S. is in the Gold Cup semifinals for the seventh consecutive time and the 11th time in 12 editions of the tournament. Mexico beat the U.S. in each of the past two finals, 2009 and 2011. The United States won the event in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007.
Honduras is playing in the semis for the third time in a row and the fifth time overall. Los Catrachos’ best result was a loss to the U.S. on penalty kicks in the 1991 final.
The Americans are 22nd in the FIFA World Rankings, while Honduras is 55th.
The Gold Cup final will be played Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. The winner will enter a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner for a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.