PHILADELPHIA — Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scored late in the first half and the United States beat El Salvador 2-0 on Wednesday night in an ugly CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal during which defender Henry Romero appeared to first bite Jozy Altidore on the back of a shoulder and then pull the American forward’s nipple.
Canadian referee Drew Fischer, a Major League Soccer regular, did not penalize the incident, which occurred during a skirmish on the goal line in the 57th minute ahead of a U.S. corner kick. A furious Altidore shoved down Romero after the apparent bite in his left shoulder area, then grimaced and fell to the ground after having his nipple twisted, but remained in the game.
Romero still could face discipline later, CONCACAF said.
The Americans, who started five veterans added for the tournament’s knockout phase, overcame shaky defensive play and poor passing, advancing to a semifinal against Costa Rica on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
Bruce Arena changed all 11 starters for the second straight game and at 7-0-5 set a record for longest unbeaten streak at the start of a U.S. coaching tenure, topping Bob Bradley’s 10-0-1 in 2007.
The U.S. improved to 6-0 against El Salvador in the Gold Cup, also winning quarterfinals 4-0 in 2002 and 5-1 in 2013. The Americans are 17-1-5 overall against the Salvadorians, the only loss an exhibition at San Salvador in 1992.
Altidore, forward Clint Dempsey, midfielders Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup.
A crowd of 31,615 at half-filled Lincoln Financial Field was evenly split with supporters of both teams.
Howard was called on to save the U.S. in the third minute. Rodolfo Zelaya ran onto a terrible, lightly struck backpass by Lichaj and instead of striking the ball with his first touch appeared to want to round Howard. The goalkeeper sprinted out, slid and batted away the ball with his left hand.
Zardes was fed by Dempsey, broke in alone in the 17th and put the ball in the net, but he was ruled offside by linesman Ainsley Rochard of Trinidad and Tobago — replays showed Zardes was even with the last defender when Dempsey made the pass.
Nagbe, moved from a flank to a central midfield role on his 27th birthday, started to stabilize the match for the U.S. with possession and passes, but the Americans did not break through until late in the first half.
Bradley took a free kick on a flank from about 35 yards and sent it on a low liner into the middle of the penalty area. The 6-foot-5 defender outjumped Darwin Cerin about 8 yards from the goal and directed the ball with a glance of his head through the upstretched arms of goalkeeper Derby Carrillo. After scoring once in his first 40 international appearances, Gonzalez has two goals in his last three.
Lichaj, trying to play his way into the top part of the U.S. depth chart, was played in by Dempsey and beat sliding defender Ivan Mancia to score on an angled shot from 6 yards.
Mistakes nearly got the U.S. in trouble early in the second half. Pineda took advantage of Nagbe’s giveaway and got around Lichaj for an open shot from just outside the penalty area but slid the ball wide.
Dempsey made his 135th appearance, moving past Jeff Agoos into sole possession of third on the U.S. list, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157). Dempsey needs one goal to equal Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals.