Young Americans got a point. And striking.
It’s something for American coach Greg Berhalter to tell his players, most of whom have never played in a World Cup qualifier before, just how difficult CONCACAF matches can be. crowded stadiums. Loud crowds. Fields are incomplete. The debris that was thrown. Melee opponents punch above their weight.
It’s a completely different experience, and now Americans have it.
USMNT saved a draw against the volatile side El Salvador on Thursday night, going out by one point after wasting a handful of good chances. But given Mexico only won the opening match in the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers, the 0-0 scoreline in San Salvador could have been much worse.
“All these matches are going to be tough,” said Berhalter, who knew what to expect after playing a World Cup qualifier as a player. “Any intention for us to come here and win 3-0, that would have been really challenging. They are dog fights.
“As much as I wanted to win this game, we wanted this game and the attitude and the game was to win the game, we’ll take the point and move on.”
USA plays Canada on Sunday in Nashville. The United States Soccer Federation (USMNT) wraps up its first qualifying period with a game in Honduras on Wednesday.
American football fans have yet to recover from the shock of USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. No doubt some will see the showdown against El Salvador, the team that the American men’s 18-1-6 face of all time, as more of the same.
But this team is hardly the same as that team. Only six players in the list of 25 players who participated in the World Cup qualifiers, and one of them, Christian Pulisic, back to Nashville He is trying to get back in shape after a match with COVID-19.
While this group of Americans is full of talent – 10 of them are in European teams still playing in the Champions League, they beat Mexico for titles in Two different tournaments this summer – They are inexperienced. Especially in this place.
“Gio took that corner kick. When he plays in Dortmund, he doesn’t hit water bottles,” said Tyler Adams, referring to Gio Reina who was showered by debris even though he was surrounded by security with riot shields.
“(These games) are intense,” Adams added. “They are feisty. They are brave.”
Having said that, Americans had their chances. Killian Acosta got a shot in the 76th minute by Mario Gonzalez from the post. Three minutes earlier, Rina had fed Weston McKinney in front of goal, and McKinney might have scored had his head been up rather than down. Instead, the ball bounced off the grass and far from the goal.
El Salvador’s best chance came in the 57th minute when Eric Zavaleta headed home from close range from a corner kick. But Matt Turner, who was playing because Zach Stephen had back spasms, was able to choke the ball.
“The guys felt we had more than enough to win the match,” Tim Ream said. “We’ve kept clean sheets away from home and created a few half chances that I think a lot of players will come back to if they can.
“Disappointed,” he added. “But by saying that, if you’re not going to win the match you can’t lose it, and we did.”
The Americans started quickly, with Reyna and Miles Robinson having good chances in the first nine minutes. Reina smashed the side of the net in the third, and Robinson’s header was just a touch too high in the ninth.
It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the USMNT got a goal, which wouldn’t have come as a surprise. The United States has never lost to El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier, and only once in the team’s previous 24 encounters.
That lone loss came back in 1992, when access to the World Cup wasn’t a foregone conclusion for USMNT.
But this is not the same team El Salvador that the Americans are used to facing.
With the coaching of Hugo Perez, who played for the United States at the 1994 World Cup, and attracted players from all over the world, El Salvador improved rapidly. It was a great match against Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, reaching the quarter-finals.
And after those first 10 minutes, she settled down and gave the Americans everything they could. Had it not been for the troubles ending, El Salvador would have been scrambling from the USMNT.
But Ronald Rodriguez’s header from a corner kick in the 17th minute sailed just over the bar, and a shot in the 33rd by Alex Roldan – his brother Christian, who plays for USMNT – was a bit off.
This was the first of 14 qualifiers. And while Americans talked about “nine points a week,” that was probably over-optimistic. Especially for a new group in the process.
Now, however, they know exactly what they’re up against.
“These games are not dependent on quality,” Adams said. “They depend on the mentality.”
It would have been better if the USMNT had the right team, or this new team wouldn’t be any better than the old one.