The United States eased to a 1-0 win over El Salvador to move to 18 points after nine matches, inching closer to qualifying for this winter’s World Cup. After an uneven first half, Antonee Robinson broke the deadlock with a second half goal and the Americans closed out the game with an assured defensive performance.
The U.S. controlled the ball for much of the opening moments of the game, but rarely broke into the final third. El Salvador looked to play past the high American defensive line early after initial tries at breaking the initial press trying to find Enrico Hernandez and Cristian Gil with early outlets. The visitors found only sporadic success pushing forward before the Walker Zimmerman led defense snuffed out any danger.
The hosts started creating chances, finding room on the right side. Robinson collected the long switching cross from Serginho Dest, but found his first cross blocked. Jesus Ferreira corralled the second Robinson square pass, took a juggling touch into the box, but put his shot over the bar to end the U.S.’s first look at goal on the evening in the 15th minute.
Dest created another chance in the 19th minute after the Americans broke the initial El Salvador pressure. Flowing down the right, he sent in a cross that Tim Weah flicked far post. Ferreira extended to connect on the chance, but put the shot from inside the six-yard box over the bar, keeping the game scoreless in the 19th minute.
El Salvador switched on the high defensive press and the home side struggled under the coordinated pressure. Dest lost the ball in the mid-third and the visitors countered with numbers. After linking two quick passes through the scattered American midfield, Alex Roldan put his shot across goal, missing by less than a foot and forcing a full stretch dive from Matt Turner, leaving the game still scoreless as it reached the 30th minute.
The U.S. settled into a stretch of possession, but struggled to turn the time on the ball into final third danger. Last passes misfired, touches were just a bit too heavy, as the hosts struggled to show their attacking quality.
The rare quality chance came as Christian Pulisic found space in transition in the 42nd minute, creating panic in the El Salvador back line. He pulled the defense in then sent a pass wide to Robinson. The driven low cross found Weah. His right footed shot was clipped for a corner, sparing goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez from making a difficult stop.
The Americans opened the second half with an intensity they rarely showed in the first half. Keeping the ball in the opening minutes, the U.S. .
The effort paid off in the 52nd minute as Weah tracked down a pass in the right channel, slipped his defender and corralled his errant touch to put an incisive shot on goal. Gonzalez parried high, but not out of his six-yard box. Ferreira out jumped the defense and headed the ball wide to Robinson. The wingback slotted the shot home and unleashed a series of backflips in celebration.
The Americans continued to press with Yunus Musah ripping a shot that forced an acrobatic save out from Gonzalez to keep the game at 1-0 in the 55th. Moments later Pulisic drove a corner into the heart of the penalty area, but Weston McKennie’s header blazed over the bar. Robinson nearly grabbed a brace off of a pressing created turnover, but his close range shot was parried wide.
The United States probed for a second goal, but were mostly content to keep El Salvador off the scoreboard as the game wound towards full time. The visitors caused a nervous moment in the 85th minute as substitute Joaquin Rivas put his header wide of Turner’s goal.
Walker Zimmerman probably had the best chance on the American goal as he clipped a long distance shot that momentarily wrong footed Turner. The soon to be Arsenal goalkeeper collected the bounding shot as is started drifting wide of frame in the 90th minute.
Second Half Story
It’s a well known one at this point. The U.S. struggles in the opening 45 minutes and turns it on after the break. The Americans were solid; El Salvador presented little danger, but the hosts lacked the cutting edge on offense beyond Ferreira’s doorstep chance.
The home side came alive in the the second half. They came out of the locker room with an intensity they’d not shown in the opening 45. The impact was immediate. El Salvador struggled with the new energy and the Americans controlled the ball for much of the opening 10 minutes. A period that included a goal and several outstanding chances.
This was the U.S. National Team’s second visit to Ohio’s capitol in the CONCACAF Octagonal and, like October’s visit, the Americans left with all three points. The team now has 10 wins in the city in 14 games. That includes a stunning nine wins in World Cup Qualifying. The winter match kicked off in sub-freezing temperatures, but the field held up well and the players adapted to the cold weather in front of a capacity crowd of 20,000 on hand.
The National Team heads to Hamilton, Ontario to face the the Canadian National Team in the cozy confines of Tim Horton’s Field on Sunday afternoon at 3pm Eastern.