Some variation of this approach is the norm for the home team in most cases, as when the teams met in San Salvador March 28. El Salvador came out pressing and while the U.S. weathered that initial pressure rather well, it soon fell victim to, of all things, a counterattack. Former D.C. United forward Eliseo Quintanilla's goal in the 15th minute broke the game open, and not until Frankie Hejduk set up a goal for Jozy Altidore in the 77th minute and scored the equalizer himself nine minutes later did the Americans get back even at 2-2.
"I think we saw it as a game where we did most things right, but we did a couple things poorly, and they made us pay for it," says U.S. forward Landon Donovan, who will set a U.S. record by playing in his 32nd World Cup qualifier Saturday. "It's unfortunate that we turned it on so late. At the end of the day, when you have a bad day, it's better to get a point than to get nothing out of the game, but that's a game looking back we think we should have won."
Since the Salvadorans beat Mexico, 2-1, on a late penalty at home June 6, they've been unable to regain any steady momentum. Four days later, they lost away to Honduras, 1-0. In July, after beating Costa Rica, 2-1, in their Gold Cup opener, they lost 1-0 decisions to Canada and Jamaica to fall short of the quarterfinals.
On the same day the USA lost to Mexico, 2-1, in Azteca Stadium, El Salvador stumbled on the road again, dropping a 1-0 decision to Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain. Tied for last place with Trinidad & Tobago with a 1-3-2 (W-L-T) record and five points, four behind fourth-place, El Salvador can't afford any more defeats.
"It was a tough game," said Altidore of the 2-2 tie in March. "The fans were there giving them all their support. They put us on our heels early, so I think we have to make sure we switch roles a bit. We're at home so we have to make sure we come with a lot of energy. Home games are critical, in general. Anytime you play at home, you want to come out flying, maybe get an early goal, and put them on their heels early."
El Salvador added San Jose midfielder Arturo Alvarez, who had represented the U.S. at youth levels but successfully petitioned FIFA to switch his allegiance to the homeland of his parents, but U.S. coach Bob Bradley otherwise doesn't see much difference in the squad since their meeting in March.
Alvarez debuted for El Salvador as a halftime sub in the loss at T&T but is a question mark for the U.S. game, according to coach Carlos de los Cobos. Unlike many national teams, El Salvador has retained its head coach for a relatively long time: de los Cobos, a former Mexico international, has been in charge since 2006.
Quintanilla scored against Mexico as well as the USA; Christian Castillo, who plays in Mexico for Leon, also netted against the Americans. Defenders Manuel Salazar and Victor Turcios and midfielder Denis Alas (formerly of the USL-2) all play their club ball for top Salvadoran club Luis Angel Firpo, which battled D.C. United evenly (2-2 aggregate) in the Concacaf Champions League preliminary round last month before losing on penalty kicks.
"I think their starting points are the same," says Bradley, who also coached the USA to a 4-0 win over El Salvador at the 2007 Gold Cup. "It's a group of players that have been together for a while. I think they're well-coached and organized. We saw that even in a home game, they had a real game plan and knew how they wanted to play us, and that's one of their strengths in every game, so we would expect all of that."
For the USA, there should be at least two changes from the team that started against Mexico. Oguchi Onyewu is suspended, and Jay DeMerit is injured, so that means Bradley will have to find replacements in the middle of the defense.
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa: 5/3 SO), Tim Howard (Everton: 12/7 SO)
DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes: 22/3), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA, 2/0), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 94: 19/0), Jay DeMerit (Watford: 3/0), Clarence Goodson (IK Start: 1/0), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew: 2/0), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan: 17/1), Jonathan Spector (West Ham: 2/0)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake: 0/0), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach: 11/4), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo: 6/0), Clint Dempsey (Fulham: 18/4), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus: 2/0), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo: 1/0), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew: 0/0), José Francisco Torres (Pachuca: 5/0)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Hull City: 9/5), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids: 5/0), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo: 16/6), Charlie Davies (FC Sochaux: 3/2), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy: 31/11), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake: 0/0)
(In parentheses are World Cup qualifying games and goals.)
EL SALVADOR ROSTER:
GOALKEEPERS: Miguel Montes (Aguila), Dagoberto Portillo (Alianza).
DEFENDERS: Deris Ariel Umanzor (Aguila), Marvin Gonzalez (FAS), Mardoqueo Henriquez (FAS), Manuel Salazar (Luis Angel Firpo), Victor Turcios (Luis Angel Firpo), Alfredo Pacheco (New York Red Bulls, USA), Ramon Flores (FAS), Alex Escobar (Isidro Metapan), Luis Miguel Hernandez (Aguila).
MIDFIELDERS: Eliseo Quintanilla (Ermis Aradippou, Cyprus), Denis Alas (Luis Angel Firpo), Osael Romero (Vista Hermosa), Ramon Sanchez (San Jose Earthquakes, USA), Juan Carlos Moscoso (FAS), Salvador Coreas (Municipal Limeno).
FORWARDS: Arturo Alvarez (San Jose Earthquakes), Rodolfo Zelaya (Leon, Mexico), Rudis Corrales (Aguila), William Reyes (FAS).