Fortunately for the U.S., that urgency would carry over into the second half, when the Americans would punch their ticket for the Gold Cup quarterfinals with a 4-1 win over Cuba.
The victory was the seventh straight for the U.S., tying the country's all-time best mark - a run of seven in a row to win the 2007 Gold Cup.
In the first half, while the Americans looked content to possess the ball and make safe passes, it was the underdog Cubans who struck first.
A streaking Ariel Martinez Gonzales beat U.S. left back Edgar Castillo to the end line and found a teammate waiting inside the box. United States captain Oguchi Onyewu was too late closing out on Jose Ciprian Alfonso, who netted a terrific goal to stun the crowd.
With time winding down, Castillo was upended while running with the ball in the box, setting up Donovan's penalty kick. The equalizer was Donovan's 52nd international goal.
The U.S. showed more punch in the second half. Defender Michael Orozco nearly captured the lead with a header that was saved by Cuban 'keeper Odelin Molina. Donovan had a free kick that languished in the box before finally being cleared away.
Midfielder Joe Corona finally broke the stalemate in the 60th minute. Corona settled a ball at the top of the 18-yard box and ripped a shot past Molina for his first international goal.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman helped seal the victory with an assist to Chris Wondolowski, causing fans to chant the RSL captain's name.
Wondolowski, meanwhile, would tap in one more goal in the 85th minute, his fifth goal in the two Gold Cup matches.