After the U.S. men's national soccer team lost a friendly to Belgium in May, a disgusted coach Jurgen Klinsmann tried to talk about what positives the Americans could get out of the surprising defeat.
"I'd rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador for the 100th time because that's where you learn," Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann is hopeful that his team, which has won seven straight official games, is not given a similar lesson Sunday when it meets El Salvador in a 4 p.m. quarterfinal of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup at M&T Bank Stadium.
Asked Saturday whether he wishes now that he chose to mention another team other than El Salvador, Klinsmann said, "I think everybody understood the comment. ... I just wanted to send out a message that, 'Yeah, we have a lot of work to do.' We have a lot of respect for El Salvador. ... It's a team full of talent, we know that.
“I think that you’ve got to give them a really credit about how they worked their way through to the quarterfinals. Obviously they caused big damage to our Olympic team last year [knocking the U.S. out of qualifying with a 1-1 tie]…We know that this is going to be a huge hurdle and we are ready for it and we need to focused and alert from the first second on.”
Klinsman and his players are also aware that many in the sellout crowd of more than 71,000 will be pulling for El Salvador. Early indications are that fans of that country's national team could make up more than half the crowd, and supporters of second quarterfinal opponents Costa Rica and Honduras will likely be pulling for their fellow Central Americans.
"I think it's a wonderful thing, having a sold-out stadium tomorrow and a lot of El Salvadorans supporting their team, making noise, making atmosphere, this is what you want to experience," Klinsmann said. "I think the players will embrace and hopefully show them that we're still playing in the U.S. and there are a lot of American fans hopefully making noise as well."
Landon Donovan is skeptical about the possibility of have a sellout made up largely of Salvadorans. But he witnessed a similar atmosphere at the Rose Bowl two years ago, when the U.S. lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup final before a pro-Mexican crowd.
"We'll see how the crowd is, we're not so sure," Donovan said before testing the field Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. "We've dealt with this many times in our careers, whether it's for or against, we just like the energy. The energy actually helps us, it's going to be exciting.
The addition of rising Major League Soccer defensive star Matt Besler for the quarterfinals suggests that Klinsmann might put in a player who has become a mainstay in the World Cup qualifying. Though Besler could end up starting in central defense with former Maryland star Clarence Goodson, Klinsmann is not yet ready to unveil his lineup.
"We'll go with all ideas. We want to raise the bar," Klinsmann said. "At the same time, you respect what everybody already did in this tournament, what he showed and what he proved. Hopefully we have three games ahead of us. If we get this big hurdle of El Salvador done, we play in three days again. You need those players in camp, you need them all here, you need them all ready."
Former Maryland standout Omar Gonzalez is scheduled to join the team if it advances to the semifinals Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Offensively, Klinsmann added veteran wing Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon, who makes up part of the "Bash Brothers" with U.S. team member Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart for the San Jose Earthquakes.
"It's important to have Eddie now with his qualities, his speed, his creativity, his taking people on one on one," Klinsmann said. "With Alan you have an element somebody who is very, very strong in the air, you need someone playing [loose] balls. If the game demands it, we have him as another weapon as well."
Tournament officials are encouraging fans to come early and take light rail if possible. The gates open at 2 p.m. for the games that are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. The public parking lots will be open at noon.