U.S. Beats El Salvador, 2-1, in World Cup Qualifier

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 2009

SANDY, Utah, Sept. 5 -- The U.S. men's national soccer team is trudging closer to a berth in the 2010 World Cup, one barely satisfying match after another.

The Americans labored Saturday night with an El Salvador squad that hadn't beaten them in 17 years. They fell behind in the first half before storming back with two goals before intermission to earn a 2-1 victory before 19,066 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

After Christian Castillo's header gave the Salvadorans a stunning lead, Landon Donovan set up goals by Clint Dempsey in the 41st and Jozy Altidore seconds before halftime. The Americans braved several awkward moments and saw Altidore's apparent goal disallowed before improving to 4-2-1 with three matches left in the final round of qualifying for the region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean.

With the United States, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico separating themselves, El Salvador (1-4-2) was virtually eliminated from advancing in a six-nation group that will send three teams to South Africa next summer and a fourth to a playoff this fall against a South American opponent.

The United States will visit Trinidad and Tobago (1-4-2) on Wednesday before finishing at Honduras and then hosting Costa Rica at RFK Stadium next month.

The Americans improved to 14-1-5 all-time against El Salvador, including 11-0-2 at home, but it was anything but easy. Tim Howard had to make a diving save on William Reyes's eight-yard bid in the 87th minute and three minutes of added time were fraught with peril.

Said U.S. Coach Bob Bradley, "Nobody has an easy game against El Salvador."

True. The Americans had to recover from a two-goal deficit to earn a tie in March in San Salvador and the Salvadorans beat Mexico. But playing at home against a team that hadn't scored against them on U.S. soil in 12 years, the Americans were genuinely relieved when the final whistle sounded.

"You want to try to stay calm, but you are also thinking, 'Heck, it's the difference between three points [for a victory] and one point [for a tie]' -- that's a big difference," Howard said. "To say you are a little bit on edge is an understatement."

If the Salvadorans didn't have enough on their minds in preparing for one of the regional titans, several players returned to the team hotel in Provo after Friday's training session to find large sums of money, laptops and other belongings missing. While police investigated, the team tried to set aside the incident and regain focus.

In the days leading to the match, the Americans had stressed the importance of seizing the initiative and scoring an early goal to deflate the Salvadorans. The energy level was sufficient, but other than a few dangerous crosses, the execution and chemistry were absent.

El Salvador absorbed pressure without fault, won one-on-one battles and countered often enough to offer hope to their several thousand blue-clad supporters in attendance. In the 32nd minute, it went ahead.

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