[USA-EL SALVADOR] What can you say about a game in which a goalkeeper makes several outstanding saves, but gifts the other team both of its goals?
And how to evaluate the guy who’s playing out of position, again, commits a howler to hand the opposition a goal, yet does just about everything else well if not brilliantly?
(USA-El Salvador video HIGHLIGHTS.)
The Americans, as they often do, left it very late to beat El Salvador, 2-1, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Wednesday night. Sasha Kljestan stole a ball misplayed by a Salvadoran defender to score the winner in the second minute of stoppage time after playing a one-two with Brian Ching, whose strong but hardly overpowering header had glanced off the hands of Miguel Montes to tie the match.
A team that rolls up an 18-3 edge in shots must have done something right, and for much of the game the U.S. played smartly if not elegantly into the attacking zone, where a shanked shot or ill-advised dribble (Robbie Rogers) squandered an opportunity, or on-target efforts (Kljestan) were repelled by Montes.
Heath Pearce, given the left-back slot with Jonathan Bornstein deployed in the middle with Clarence Goodson, powered up the flank repeatedly and dug into enough tackles to secure that flank for most of the game. Kyle Beckerman took the holding role as Rogers (right), Brad Davis (left), and Kljestan took turns slicing open the Salvadoran back line.
The Americans won their first corner in the first minute and nearly scored from it, but a Salvadoran defender blocked a glancing near-post header by Brad Evans from a Davis corner kick. Evans got to his head from a free kick in the second half and powered another header that Montes dove left to parry. Though they couldn't score on a set play, the U.S. did get a few good shots on the frame.
Forwards Conor Casey and Robbie Findley didn’t get a lot of cracks at goal themselves yet helped carve open chances for the midfielders. Montes twice stopped good low shots from Kljestan in the first half, with balls from Casey and Davis providing the chances.
At halftime, Ching replaced Casey, and Rogers moved to his more natural left side to give Eddie Gaven the right flank. Gaven and Ching found time and space immediately; Rogers got to the end line to drive a cross that Ching had to reach back for, and a great feed from Gaven went wasted when Rogers ran into a tackle.
El Salvador rarely threatened through its own volition, but when Evans – deployed at right back though he plays center mid for Seattle – glanced a Salvadoran long ball into the penalty area back toward keeper Nick Rimando as defensive partner Bornstein came over and overran the ball, Rudis Corrales seized the moment. He tapped the ball past Rimando as the keeper charged out and with barely more than a half hour to play the Americans trailed, 1-0. Otherwise, Evans had a solid outing.
Midway through the second half, Jeff Cunningham replaced Findley, who been bothered in training by tendinitis. Cunningham dropped back into midfield, which gave Ching more space to operate and opened up even wider gaps in the Salvadorans’ central defense. When Pearce powered up the left side past Deris Umanzor and served a bending ball to the near post, Ching stooped to direct a header that caromed off Montes’ gloves into the net.
Ching and Gaven, supported by several teammates, continued to threaten in the final minutes as the tiring Salvadorans defended desperately. Gaven shot wide under pressure after Ching flicked a ball to him over the Salvadoran back line, and Kljestan floated a corner that Manuel Salazar headed away just as Goodson rose to meet it at the back post.
In the second minute of stoppage time, Montes played a ball outside of his penalty area to defender Marvin Gonzalez, who didn’t see Kljestan closing in. Kljestan took it off him cleanly, tapped a pass to Ching was returned, and touched the ball once before pushing it past Montes with his left foot from close range.
Both Ching and Kljestan, as well as Gaven and Goodson and Pearce, helped their quests to make the World Cup squad, but they – as well as everyone else – will get a better idea of where they stand when Coach Bob Bradley chooses the players to face the Netherlands next Wednesday in Amsterdam. In a postgame interview Bradley said a few domestic players could be included on what will be a mostly European-based roster.
Feb. 24 in Tampa
USA 2 El Salvador 1. Goals: Ching 75, Kljestan 90; Corrales 59.
USA -- Rimando, Evans, Bornstein, Goodson, Pearce, Rogers (Cameron, 87), Kljestan, Beckerman (McCarty, 79), Davis (Gaven, 46), Findley (Cunningham, 68), Casey (Ching, 46).
El Salvador -- Montes, Escobar, Gonzalez, Flores, Sanchez, Romero (Alas, 71), A.Alvarez, Corrales, Salazar, Umanzor, Moscoso.
Referee: Silviu Peterscu (Canada).
What did you think of the U.S. performance? Who helped their chances of making the World Cup team? Who hurt their chances? Let us know.