tim howard

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

The U.S. men’s national team knows how to protect its Philly turf.

A year after shutting out Paraguay in the Copa America Centenario at Lincoln Financial Field, the American soccer stars returned to the Eagles’ home stadium and shut off El Salvador, 2-0, in the Gold Cup quarterfinals Wednesday night.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scored for the U.S., who advance to face Costa Rica in the semifinals of the tournament for CONCACAF supremacy.

But despite the shutout — and the fact that they’re moving on — the win didn’t exactly have U.S. head coach Bruce Arena in a jovial mood.

“I thought we had a difficult time tonight,” Arena said. “Our timing wasn’t good. We didn’t deal with the physicality. The game had no rhythm with all of the fouls and players falling on the ground. And we weren’t good on top of it.”

Arena was particularly upset about some of the more physical aspects of the game, saying that he didn’t think “games should look like that” with all the fouls and time wasting.

One particular play stood above the rest — and it took the term “physical” to a whole new level as El Salvador’s Henry Romero literally bit U.S. striker Jozy Altidore in the shoulder while defending him in the box on a corner kick.

It appeared that Altidore also got his nipple grabbed by Romero — something he was furious about at the time but able to laugh about afterwards.

“My girl’s mad at me,” Altidore said. “She’s mad at me, she’s mad at Romero, because she’s like, ‘Only I can bite you, only I can grab your nipples.’” 

Incredibly, U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez was also bitten later in the second half by Darwin Ceren. Neither Romero or Ceren were carded but could possibly draw retroactive punishments from CONCACAF.

“When the guy bit me, I was a bit shocked,” Gonzalez said. “But you have to move on as quick as possible and look forward to the next play.”

“There should have been players sent off in my opinion,” Arena added. “These games aren’t easy. Clearly I would think the referee doesn’t want to send anyone off. But it was a night where on a couple of occasions perhaps it would have gotten the game headed in the right direction.”

Of course, Gonzalez did enjoy the best kind of revenge, getting his head on the end of a 41st-minute free kick from Michael Bradley to put the Americans on the board.

The U.S. then made it 2-0 right before halftime when Lichaj scored his first international goal following a marvelous spin and through ball from Clint Dempsey.

“I don’t know if it was a few years coming,” said Lichaj, who made his first appearance with the U.S. national team in Chester back in 2010. “But I was just excited to score.”

Longtime USMNT stars Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard were four of the six players called up by Arena for the knockout stage of the tournament after a young, untested roster helped the team win Group B — albeit unconvincingly — with wins over Martinique and Nicaragua and a draw with Panama.

And although they did deliver — on top of the Bradley and Dempsey assists, Howard came through with one big early save en route to the shutout — no one seemed particularly happy about the performance.

“There was not much rhythm in the game today — a lot of stoppages because of all the fouls,” Dempsey said. “You just gotta try to be smart, see your way through the game. It wasn’t pretty but we got the right result.”

The Americans know they’ll need to be better in the next round against Costa Rica, who defeated Panama, 1-0, in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with fans from all four countries — 31,635 in all — packing the Linc.

The U.S. national team is looking to win its sixth Gold Cup and avenge an uninspired fourth-place finish in the last Gold Cup, two years ago.

“The great thing is we have a really deep roster and we’re able to keep the team somewhat fresh for every single game,” Gonzalez said. “Tonight we got six new guys in and you can tell it was a bit sloppy in the beginning. We missed passes here and there. It could definitely be better but we got a game in together and we’re expecting it to be a lot sharper for the next game.”

Of note to the Union fans in the crowd, Chris Pontius entered the game in the 87th minute, marking the third straight Gold Cup game he’s played in after being called in as a late injury replacement.

In the three minutes that he was on the field, the Union winger did not appear to get bit.

Union's Andre Blake wins MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

Union's Andre Blake wins MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

Andre Blake has reached the peak.

Leading the Union to their second-ever playoff berth, the 25-year-old goalkeeper has won the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, beating out the New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles and Colorado Rapids’ Tim Howard for the title.

“I'm extremely grateful for this award,” Blake said in the team’s official release. “To win Goalkeeper of the Year in my first full season as a starter is something I will always cherish.”

Blake won 24.15 percent of the vote, while Robles came in second with 13.84 percent and Howard third with 12.73 percent.

Selected first overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Blake’s rise within MLS wasn’t a smooth one. Blocked behind Rais Mbolhi and Zac MacMath, the Jamaican national made just one start in 2014, and he was hampered by meniscus injuries to both knees in 2015, when he managed just six games.

But after breaking through both personal injury and the Union’s clumsy handling of their goalkeeping situation, Blake took over the starting job in 2016 and ran with it. With a knack for the athletic game-saver, the goalkeeper earned six shutouts in 32 starts, making 99 saves.

“I want to thank my teammates for pushing me to be better each day,” he said. “Thank you to our technical staff and my goalkeeper coach, Oka Nikolov. Thank you to the voters across MLS for recognizing the season we had here in Philadelphia. We will look to be even better in 2017."

He also did more with less. Unlike Robles, who played behind the best team in the Eastern Conference, and Howard, who manned the best defensive team in MLS, Blake was in charge of organizing a Union back line that featured two rookies, Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro/Ken Tribbett, and a second-year center back in Richie Marquez. 

The prestigious award has been won by some of MLS’ best, including Kasey Keller, Brad Guzan and Tony Meola. Faryd Mondragon nearly claimed the prize in 2011 for the Union, but was beat out by Keller.

Blake is the second Union player in as many days to win an award. Veteran Chris Pontius on Wednesday was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year.