We don’t really talk soccer or futbol here much, but I happened to catch last night’s qualifier between the U.S. and El Salvador in an away match last night. Like all games that the U.S. plays on the road, the environment is terrifying. Think if you taught Oakland Raiders fans and the Dawg Pound how to coordinate cheers and had them both filling a stadium to root for the same team. Now put them all in blue and have them screaming, chanting, throwing things, blowing whistles and sounding off police sirens. That is what the U.S. faced last night in El Salvador. Combine that with the historically well-known stories of blaring music, firecrackers, and pulled fire alarms at hotels where the U.S. team stays on road trips and you have yourself the daunting task of winning a soccer game.
To be fair, I don’t know if the U.S. had any of those excuses last night in their game against El Salvador. I should hope that they do though, as the U.S. sleepwalked through the first three fourths of the game. They seemed lethargic as their counterattacks fell flat and seemed toothless. Meanwhile, El Salvador seemed to be playing at a different pace. They were flying to the ball and clogging the midfield and counterattacking at every opportunity. And it paid off. They scored their first goal early in the game, and then in the 72nd minute they scored what seemed to be the icing on the cake for El Salvador. They made the U.S. defense look silly as the left back gave up a run to the end line after getting juked out of his shorts. A cross and a header later and the U.S. was down by two with about 17 minutes remaining plus or minus injury time.
But the U.S. caught a burst of energy. For the first time all game, the U.S. was playing with a sense of urgency. They seemed to be ticked off at the way El Salvador was staying down “injured” after every play to thwart any momentum that the U.S. may have achieved. Then it happened. The U.S. scored on a header by Jozy Altidore. It was a beautiful exchange as Frankie Hejduk received the ball on an overlapping run and crossed it where Altidore was waiting to put it in the net. The U.S. was very workmanlike getting the ball back to the center of the field as they knew they still had work to do. The goal occurred in the 76th minute of a 90 minute game.
More flopping and time wasting occurred with El Salvador as the refs started to swallow their whistles a bit more. The U.S. defense started playing a lot more physically in breaking up attacks. And they finally were pushing the whole team forward for the counterattacks. Finally, with about two minutes left in regulation a corner kick bounded through the traffic at the front side of the El Salvador goal and landed near the far post where Hejduk was waiting to put it into the net. It was electrifying to see the U.S. come back and tie it, but also to see them shut up the El Salvadorian crowd for what seemed like the first time all night. And yet again, the U.S. sprinted into the goal to grab the ball and put it at midfield.
The U.S. had one more amazing attempt on goal that failed during extra time, but it wasn’t to be. The game ended in a two point tie. The U.S. team found a way to make something out of nothing and earned a point to stay on top in World Cup qualifying. Whether or not the U.S. ever should have been in that position is another thing altogether. The U.S. managed to pull themselves out of a bad situation, but they need to take better care not to get themselves into that situation in the first place as they make their way through the rest of their qualifying schedule.
We now return you back to your regularly scheduled Cleveland sports news.