United States 2, El Salvador 0
The U.S. national soccer team defeated El Salvador, 2-0, on Saturday in a one-sided and ill-tempered World Cup qualifier before a bipartisan crowd of 25,266 at Gillette Stadium.
Emerging striker Brian Ching scored an early goal, and San Jose Earthquakes teammate Landon Donovan struck in the late stages to move the Americans a step closer to a berth in the final round of regional qualifying next year.
But what was remembered and debated after the final whistle was the ejection of Salvadoran midfielder Denis Alas midway through the first half. Alas had already received a yellow card for a harsh tackle on U.S. defender Bobby Convey, but during a stoppage in play at midfield and the United States leading 1-0, Alas was assessed a second card -- and an automatic ejection -- because he was wearing a gold chain around his neck.
It probably wasn't going to change the outcome of the match -- the Americans finished with a 19-1 advantage on shots and 8-2 on corner kicks, and created a bounty of scoring opportunities -- but it prompted an uproar from the Salvadoran bench and sympathy from the U.S. delegation.
"Nobody expected a red card for that," said Salvadoran Coach Juan Paredes, who was also banished to the locker room by Trinidadian referee Neal Brizan for a sideline outburst in which he had to be restrained by his players.
"The rules say all the players have to take off all their [jewelry]. Denis Alas, I don't know, maybe he forgot. . . . This is very hard for us."
According to game organizers, both teams had been explicitly warned during a routine meeting on Friday that the rule banning jewelry on players would be enforced. On Saturday, no one noticed Alas's chain until players and staff members on the U.S. bench pointed it out to the sideline official, who relayed the information to Brizan.
Said U.S. captain Claudio Reyna: "I think it's terrible. It's really a bad call. I think the player made a genuine mistake. It's a shame. They should've just given him a warning and kept him on. If that had happened to us, I would've felt the same way. It's just a bit too harsh."
Playing a man short for the final 64 minutes, the inexperienced Salvadorans (1-1) had almost no chance of earning a victory or tie against an American squad (1-0-1) starting seven European-based players. The United States, heavily favored to reach the 2006 World Cup, will reach the midway point of semifinal-round play on Wednesday when it plays at Panama.
El Salvador -- ranked 103rd in the world, 93 slots behind the United States -- rarely kept possession in the U.S. end and never tested Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard. What kept the score respectable was the sluggish pace of the game, the Americans' inability to execute within the Salvadorans' tightly packed defense and their wayward shooting.
U.S. Coach Bruce Arena called it "a game without a whole lot of rhythm, a little ugly because of the variety of incidents. It seemed like the game never got going, and when it did, it was stopped."
The rugged play started in the first minute when U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo took down a Salvadoran player, delaying the game for a few minutes. Ten minutes later, U.S. striker Conor Casey crashed into goalie Santos Rivera, slowing things for another long stretch.
The controversial red card, which was handed out while DaMarcus Beasley was being treated after a brutal hit, halted the action again. In all, Brizan was forced to add an astounding eight minutes of injury time onto the first half.
In the 52nd minute, three Salvadoran players lay hurt in their penalty area -- two of them had collided with each other -- and five minutes later, Rivera appeared to intentionally step on Beasley's face, which prompted a scuffle inside the Salvadoran net.
Amid the turmoil, however, the Americans scored two quality goals. In the fifth minute, Convey, a former D.C. United player now with English club Reading, served a cross into the box to Ching, who angled an eight-yard header off the inside of the far post. It was Ching's second goal in his last seven minutes of U.S. action after scoring a dramatic tying goal in the 89th minute at Jamaica on Aug. 18.
The lead stretched to 2-0 in the 69th minute, when the dynamic Donovan made a confident run at the Salvadoran defense, attracting four defenders as he cut across the top of the box, and then drilled an 18-yard shot into the lower left corner for his 17th international goal in 54 appearances.
"After two games to have four points," Arena said, "it's good -- it's not perfect, but it's a good position to be in."
Soccer Note: U.S. veteran defender Eddie Pope sat out because of a thigh injury, but team officials said he should be ready for Wednesday's match.