Another six-spot shows USMNT's new firepower

Posted by Doug McIntyre

AP Photo/Don RyanChris Wondolowski had a little extra something in the victory over Belize, and it was more than the extra 'W' on the back of his shirt.

Up until about six weeks ago, the main knock on Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. team was that it wasn't creating enough chances, or enough goals.

The Americans sure aren't having trouble scoring now.

For the second straight game, the reserve-laden U.S. Gold Cup squad found the net six times Tuesday, riding Chris Wondolowski’s first-half hat trick to a 6-1, tournament-opening win against Belize in Portland, Ore. The latest thrashing came on the heels of Friday's 6-0 rout of Guatemala in a pre-tourney friendly.

“We’re just really starting to click,” Wondolowski told U.S. Soccer afterward. "There’s tremendous talent all over the offensive area and we’re just making smart runs and finishing our chances.”

-Grantland's Friedman: About last night
-Press Pass video: Assessing Klinsmann


At the beginning of the year, the U.S. front line was having difficulty manufacturing opportunities, let alone converting them.

An MLS-heavy squad containing many of the same players on this roster kicked off 2013 with a drab, scoreless draw against Canada in January. The attack didn’t look much better when the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying began the following month; in the Yanks' first thee Hexagonal matches -- against Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico -- they managed just two goals.

A stingy defense and a little luck (the U.S. was outshot 19-1 by El Tri in March’s 0-0 tie in Mexico City) helped the U.S. kick off the Hex with a respectable 1-1-1 record. But the struggles up front remained a major concern.

Since reconvening in late May, though, the U.S. has been a different team. It’s averaged 3.3 goals a game, and while the past two matches skew that figure a bit, Klinsmann’s team also managed to score twice against Belgium, twice on the road in Jamaica and four times in a friendly win against Germany. More important is the Americans finally look comfortable playing their coach's high-pressure system. The results speak for themselves.

“I think that’s a testament to the work we’ve been doing,” said Stuart Holden, one of 12 players who spent at least part of May and June with the first string. “We’re not going to score six in every game -- we know that. But if we can create that amount of chances and take some goals it’ll help us as we go through the tournament.”

Mainly by boosting the squad’s confidence. Klinsmann was able to use almost all of his 23-man roster over the past two outings; only three field players (Corey Ashe, Tony Beltran and Jack McInerney) didn’t see action in either contest. Seven different players scored against Guatemala and Belize. Before notching his first U.S. goal last week, Wondolowski had gone scoreless in his first 11 games.

“I’m just confident, relaxed and enjoying it,” he told U.S. Soccer. “I think I was pressing a little bit too much at the beginning and I never play my best when I’m doing that.”

Holden got on the score sheet for the first time since a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly two years. He came on for the second half and converted a 58th-minute feed from Landon Donovan, who had a goal and two assists himself Tuesday.

If the U.S. can keep the offense humming as the competition moves along, there’s a good chance it results in a continental title -- not to mention roster spots for Donovan, Holden, Wondolowski and others for the final four matches of World Cup qualifying.

“If you keep the tempo high and you keep going,” Donovan said, “it opens up space eventually and you can score goals.”

Something that’s proving to be a real strength for the U.S. these days.

NOTES

-Klinsmann has made it clear that he’s easing Holden, who came on at halftime for the second consecutive match, back in slowly -- not that the Bolton midfielder thinks that’s particularly necessary. “For me now it’s not a matter of being back -- I think I’m there,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of fine-tuning now and taking it to the next level. I’m ready to just really push on now and keep getting better from game to game.”

-Four days after scoring his 50th international goal, Donovan picked up assist No. 50 against Belize. “I’m very proud of it,” he said. “I get a lot of enjoyment out of helping guys score and seeing guys be successful and happy and when it comes in a victory it's even more special.”

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