PORTLAND — A villain played hero Tuesday at Jeld-Wen Field.
Chris Wondolowski, the San Jose Earthquakes forward who was heartily booed at Jeld-Wen when he equaled Major League Soccer’s single-season record for goals at the end of the 2012 season, scored three times as the United States beat overmatched Belize 6-1 in its opening match of the Gold Cup Tournament.
That the match was one-sided was no surprise. In terms of population, Belize has about 100,000 fewer citizens than Clark County. If this were a high school match, it would have been Union against Columbia Adventist.
But the mismatch did not discourage 18,724 soccer fans from enjoying a chance to support the United States national team. The patriotic supporters occupying the north end home of the Timbers Army came through with a prematch tifo that included the words “Community, Club, Country,” and a green-clad Cascadia Sam.
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said both the Portland crowd and his squad lived up to expectations.
“Thank you to a fantastic crowd,” Klinsmann said. “It was a wonderful experience. The players were curious how it would be, and (the fans) lived up to expectations.”
This match was the first of three group stage contests for each team. The United States will face Cuba on Saturday in Sandy, Utah, then meet Costa Rica on July 16 in East Hartford, Conn.
The 12-team tournament for top national teams from North and Central America and the Caribbeanconcludes with the championship match July 28 in Chicago.
In addition to Wondolowski’s three goals, Landon Donovan produced a goal and two assists in the rout. Donovan has 52 goals and 51 assists in his national-team career.
Wondoloski opened the scoring with an 11th-minute point-blank rebound finish on a play that started with a Jose Torres cross. Wondolowski — whose name was misspelled Wondowlowski on the back of his jersey — added a pair of diving headers before halftime.
The first of those, on a ball lofted into the penalty area by Kyle Beckerman, put the USA up 2-0 in the 36th minute. Wondolowski’s third goal came in the 40th minute, less than 60 seconds after Belize scored from a free kick, when he nodded home a cross from Michael Parkhurst.
The Belize goal was scored by Ian Gaynair, who was open in front to head home a free kick taken by Elroy Smith.
For the briefest of moments, a Belize squad that barely touched the ball in the attacking half of the field, could dream big dreams.
“At 2-1, that was ideal,” Belize coach Ian Mork said. “It didn’t last long enough. I think that really turned things for us. Just a lack of concentration. I think we had too many players that were not completely focused at that moment.”
As expected, Belize played with nine or 10 players defending from the start. Klinsmann said it was another challenge for his team to demonstrate the composure, speed and consistency needed to break through against tactics he expects to face often in this tournament.
Halftime substitute Stuart Holden cashed in a Donovan assist in the 57th minute. Michael Orozco scored a header from a Donovan free kick in the 71st, and Donovan scored a penalty kick in the 75th.
For Wondolowski, it was a breakthrough performance. Despite his effectiveness in MLS, he had not scored for the national team until a last week. Now he has four goals in five days.
“That’s what a goal scorer is about. Always be hungry and never let a scoring chance slip away,” Klinsmann said.