PORTLAND, Ore. – The US national team knew they had to get off on the right foot in their CONCACAF Gold Cup opener. They got the job done on Tuesday night, and then some.
Chris Wondolowski bagged a hat trick and Landon Donovan became the first American to join the 50 goal-50 assist club as the US enjoyed a walk-in-the-park 6-1 victory over Belize in front of 18,724 at JELD-WEN Field.
The Americans had free run over 130th-ranked Belize and assumed the top spot in Group C of the Gold Cup with the victory. Wondolowski, who scored his first goal in a US shirt only four days earlier, netted all three of his goals in the first half, while Donovan dished up his 50th and 51st career assists and scored his 52nd career goal in a US shirt in a dominant day for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men.
The US came out with an offensive barrage and high pressure on Belize’s five-man backline, but the payoff didn’t come until the 12th minute. Jose Torres raced down the left wing to the end line and fired a cross to the far side of the six-yard box to a waiting Joe Corona, who headed it right at Belize goalkeeper Shane Orio. But Wondolowski was lurking and immediately slammed the rebound into the net.
The American offense then went stagnant for a quarter-hour until Wondolowski brought JELD-WEN back to life. In the 37th minute, Kyle Beckerman found himself with space and, from about 25 yards out, crossed the ball into the box where an on-rushing Wondo headed it in for his second goal.
Belize made it interesting literally for a minute. In the 40th, sweeper Elroy Smith won a free kick from 25 yards out and took the restart himself, finding Ian Gaynair completely unmarked at the far side of the six-yard box. The unmarked defender easily headed it past Nick Rimando to bring the Jaguars back to within one.
That’s as close as they got. Less than 60 seconds later, Michael Parkhurst raced down the left wing and fired a cross into the box for a waiting Wondolowski, whose diving header gave the San Jose Earthquakes captain the hat trick.
Klinsmann made one halftime substitution, inserting Stuart Holden for Beckerman, just as he did in last week’s tuneup victory over Guatemala, and it paid off 13 minutes into the second half. Corona served up a cross from the left wing that Donovan headed down into the box, gift-wrapped for Holden. And the Bolton man finished easily with a hard drive to Orio’s right.
In the 72nd minute, defender Michael Orozco Fiscal got into the act, heading in second-half sub Brek Shea’s free kick from the left side of the area to give the US an even five-spot.
Three minutes later, Donovan scored his third goal in two games after Ashley Torres was whistled for a hand ball in the box. The USMNT’s all-time leading scorer calmly stepped up on the penalty kick and wrong-wayed Orio for his 52nd career international goal, capping the scoring on a night the US could have had several more goals.
Klinsmann made three changes to his starting lineup from the Guatemala game. Wondolowski took Herculez Gomez’s place up top next to Donovan, while Mix Diskerud played in the hole behind him. The Norwegian-born midfielder’s first start in an official international match cap-tied him permanently to the USMNT.
In defense, Orozco Fiscal slid into Oguchi Onyewu’s spot in central defense next to Clarence Goodson.
The US next head to Sandy, Utah, where they’ll face Cuba in their second group-stage match on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium (3:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Belize take on Cuba in the second match of that double-header.