Donovan returns to form with peaking U.S. team
Arlington, Texas • When Landon Donovan took his now infamous three-month vacation on the eve of World Cup qualifying last winter, he said he needed a break to rediscover his passion for a sport he had played nonstop for more than a dozen years.
And though you can quibble with the timing, you can't argue with the results.
Since being invited back to the national team four weeks ago, Donovan has played some of the best soccer of his career which is saying something since he's arguably the top player in U.S. history.
Donovan was at his most dominant Wednesday, scoring twice and adding an assist to lead the U.S. to a 3-1 dismantling of Honduras in a Gold Cup semifinal before a crowd of 81,410 at Cowboys Stadium.
The victory extends the Americans' win streak to a record 10 matches and sends them on to the title game Sunday in Chicago.
But they won't be playing Mexico when they get there. Although the two CONCACAF giants have met in the last three finals, Mexico was stopped short of the championship game for only the second time in 11 years when Panama held on for a 2-1 victory in the other semifinal.
Not that it matters to Donovan, whose five goals and seven assists have given him a hand in more than half of the 19 U.S. scores in the tournament
"I'm enjoying myself," he said. "It's the most relaxed I've ever felt. When that's the case, I do really well."
Finding that comfort zone was, of course, the point of the break in the first place. And given Donovan's recent form even U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann, who has been critical of the sabbatical, is endorsing what it has produced.
"We all are very pleased with the way he's playing," Klinsmann said. "You're always going to be measured on the maximum he could offer you. I told him that. Your benchmark is the best Landon Donovan ever. I'm not taking anything less than that.
"And he's trying to catch up with that."
Donovan wasted little time in getting the Americans started Wednesday, one-touching a pass from near the center circle to a streaking Eddie Johnson, who beat keeper Donis Escobar cleanly from inside the 18-yard box in the 11th minute.
Donovan doubled the margin in the 27th minute, chesting down Alejandro Bedoya's volley over the head of defender Brayan Beckeles, then redirecting the ball into the net with his right foot.
Honduras got back in the match briefly when Nery Medina skied over Bedoya and Clarence Goodson to head home Marvin Chavez's free kick just after intermission. But Bedoya and Goodson helped get that goal back a minute later, with Bedoya running under a Goodson pass at the end line, then sending a cross toward the middle for Donovan, who used his left foot to one-touch it in off the hop for his 18th career Gold Cup goal.
Now it's Klinsmann who might be getting some downtime. The coach was sent off with three minutes left in regulation time after angrily slamming a ball to the turf to register his displeasure with referee Walter Quesada's inability to curb Honduras' rough play late in the game.
The expulsion doesn't automatically carry over to the final, leaving Klinsmann's status in the hands of a disciplinary committee that will review a report from Quesada. Its decision is expected by Friday.
"It was a reaction out of frustration," said Klinsmann, who snapped after captain DaMarcus Beasley was kicked in the stomach in the 86th minute. "The fouls started adding up throughout the last half-hour. Obviously, you shouldn't then throw the ball on the ground. I apologize for that reaction. It wasn't against the referee."
In the other semifinal Panama turned a first-half goal from Blas Perez, a second-half score from Roman Torres and some brilliant goalkeeping from Jaime Penedo into its second 2-1 win over Mexico in 17 days, sending Panama to the final for the first time since 2005, when it lost to the U.S. on penalty kicks.
Mexico's goal came on a diving header from Luis Montes midway through the first half.
GOLD CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
2 p.m. MT
Soldier Field, Chicago