Tied 0 at 45 minutes with no shots on goal, there wasn’t a single US men’s national team fan who didn’t think, “oh no, here we go again.” A draw at home against less talented El Salvador would have raised the stakes for the remaining two games in this CONCACAF World Cup qualifying window.
Then came Antonee Robinson.
Like their second-half equalizer in the USMNT third qualifying game last September in Honduras, Robinson scored on a second chance to give the Americans the go-ahead goal in the 52nd minute and kept them well positioned for qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Cup in Qatar in November.
Winger Tim Weah’s initial shot was saved by goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez. The ball hit striker Jesus Ferreira in the middle of the box and he headed it to Robinson, who finished the ball into the bottom right corner before celebrating with an emphatic cartwheel and backflip.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW:Stay up to date with our sports newsletter
The USMNT was far from at the top of its game, but it was good enough to defeat El Salvador 1-0 at Lower.com Field in the ninth of 14 World Cup qualifiers. The US produced some chances in the first half, but was able to penetrate El Salvador’s baseline much more in the second half.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” Robinson said. “There were times when we played good football, times when we just had to look for opportunities that we didn’t waste, but we got the win. We are one step closer to our goal of qualifying for the World Cup.”
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said his team could have done a better job of pressing defense and finishing off chances, but he was encouraged that they created some early chances.
“I wouldn’t say this was our best game. We didn’t finish enough chances that we had,” Berhalter said. “But regarding the goals that came in the first or second half, we had enough chances in the first half to score goals. That’s what makes me happy.”
Midfielder Weston McKennie was dominant throughout the 90 minutes, often propelling the Americans forward with excellent through balls and his ability to escape pressure when El Salvador’s defenders chased him.
In his first start for the national team since being injured against Honduras in early September, playmaker Christian Pulisic didn’t have much of an impact on the game. He had a quality chance within the first 20 minutes that was blocked on the edge of the box, but Pulisic often dribbled past several defenders and gave the ball away too many times.
Pulisic was the first player taken off the field by substitute Brendan Aaronson in the 64th minute. Berhalter said he liked Pulisic’s energy, while also admitting the US needs to find ways to get him into more scoring positions.
“It’s about him finding his best form and really finding ways to get him in front of goal because that’s where he really shines,” Berhalter said. “When he is in front of the penalty area is when he does his best work.”
The US controlled possession throughout and combined well in midfield, but ultimately struggled to finish their chances.
In the first half, the US had 65% of the possession, completed 92.2% of their passes and had eight chances, but could not get a shot into the frame. The omission of Ricardo Pepi in favor of Ferreira from the starting lineup left the US without a target forward in the crosses, but the crosses were mostly poor for the first 45 minutes.
The USMNT had their best chance of the first half in the 19th minute. On a cross from right back Sergiño Dest, Weah shot the ball into the back post where Ferreira had an open goal from about 6 meters but missed the high net.
El Salvador had their best chance in the 28th minute when midfielder Alex Roldan had an open shot at the top of the area just to the right of the semicircle, but he dragged it to Matt Turner’s left.
Once Robinson finished his chance, the USMNT dominated the rest of the match and eliminated any potential chance for El Salvador. The Americans finished the night with five shots on goal and 16 chances created. Turner didn’t have to make a single save.
“I think the ambition to play forward and be behind them for the full 90 minutes was lacking,” Berhalter said. “We had it in spurts, but overall, I think we could have done a lot better.”
The USMNT remained in second place with 18 points, one point behind Canada, whose victory over Honduras brought them to 19 points. The US travels to Hamilton, Ontario, for a big game in Canada on Sunday at 3 pm ET before concluding this window with a home game against Honduras on Wednesday in St. Paul, Minnesota.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism