After a very frustrating first half, the United States men’s national team finally got on the scoreboard through Antonee Robinson as they came away with an ugly win against a stingy El Salvador at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday.
In the first of three qualifiers that could boost the team’s chances of booking their ticket to Qatar in November, they found themselves lacking sharpness in the final third to put the game well out of reach early on.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter went to his usual 4-3-3 formation with one surprising inclusion. Jesus Ferreira was given the nod in the starting eleven in the place of Ricardo Pepi, as the recent Augsburg signee remained on the bench for the entire game.
The hosts tried to pressure El Salvador from the start and came very close to opening the scoring after 15 minutes when Weston McKennie passed the ball wide to the left Robinson, who then sent it into the path of Ferreira. The FC Dallas man was able to slide the ball past a defender to get space for a shot, but it went just past the near post.
Ferreira had another opportunity three minutes later when the U.S. launched a counterattack. Sergino Dest blazed down the right side with the ball and crossed it into the area. Timothy Weah’s glancing header was there for the taking, but Ferreira somehow put his shot over the bar.
The U.S. may have thought playing the game in the cold climes of Columbus would affect El Salvador, but La Selecta didn’t seem fazed.
They had their chance in the 28th minute to take a shock lead when Alex Rodan fired a shot from the edge of the area. However, it went wide of the target.
The Americans then had one final chance to break the scoreless deadlock before halftime. This time it was Weah’s turn to have a crack when Pulisic sprayed the ball out left to Robinson who crossed it into the area for the Lille winger. El Salvador defender Roberto Dominguez was able to get in front of Weah’s shot to deflect away from danger.
It was no surprise that the hosts didn’t score in the first half as they have had trouble with this going back several games, and it appeared that it just was not going to be their night as they came out for the second half.
However, they were able to find the breakthrough in the 52nd minute when Weah took possession of the ball in the area and tried to center it. Goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez was able to block it. As the ball was in the air, Ferreira headed towards Robinson, who was waiting on the left, and the left-back sent his half-volley into the goal to take some of the pressure off.
The hosts pressed for more and had an excellent chance to double their lead in the 55th minute. Yunus Musah was on the spot to finish off a play and his shot should have gone in, but Gonzalez made an excellent reaction save to keep the game at a single goal.
It was an ugly win, and several questions will need to be answered, but the U.S. still claimed three points, in the end, to move them closer to qualifying for the World Cup.
Next, it’s the trip up north to Hamilton, Ontario, to take on Canada.