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U.S. continues home domination of Mexico by starting final qualifying with 2-0 victory.

Final round of World Cup qualifying opens with weakened Mexico.

Kljestan shines in dull U.S. victory over Sweden.

CONCACAF draw has Americans facing Mexico to open final round of qualifying.

Cooper, Adu lead U.S. to dominant, if meaningless, decision over Guatemala.

Qualifying loss to ascendant T&T means little to U.S. men.

Cooper says no to invitation to join U.S. team in qualifying.

U.S. bursts into final round of qualifying by demolishing Cuba 6-1.

Improved U.S. attack sinks T&T, nears advancement to final qualifying round.

Americans score first victory in Guatemala in ugly qualifier.

High security follows Americans around Guatemala City.

Qualifying semifinals begin with trip to unfriendly Guatemala.

U.S. methodically closes out Barbados to advance in qualifying.

Against weak foe, U.S. attack finally finds itself in 8-0 qualifying rout of Barbados.

Howard saves U.S. men in 0-0 draw with Argentina in match of tired teams.

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Analysis

U.S. responds to poor effort with late rally to draw El Salvador 2-2.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Sunday, March 29, 2009) -- The United States men came from behind to erase a two-goal deficit and draw 2-2 with El Salvador in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying before 30,500 delirious fans yesterday at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador.

In regional qualifying, the U.S. rarely has had to work so hard for a point in the standings, but with defender Frankie Hejduk's equalizing header in the 88th minute, the Americans (1-0-1) are alone in first place with four points in the six-nation, 10-match round robin. Next for the U.S. is Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday at LP Field in Nasheville, a 7:30 p.m. (ET) match televised by ESPN2 and Spanish-language Galavision.

What's difficult to decipher is whether Americans should be greatly concerned about how poorly they played for the opening 70 minutes, or elated about their gutsy comeback after that.

"El Salvador played with a tremendous about of energy and it was our challenge to match it," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "When we found ourselves behind, it took a great effort from our players to fight back and come away with a point. We prepared for this game knowing that El Salvador would be difficult. We found ourselves behind and that was not part of the plan, and at that point the team spirit and mentality paid off."

Bradley had to make three important lineup changes. He substituted Brad Guzan for suspended goalkeeper Tim Howard (yellow cards), used Danny Califf in the central defense instead of slightly injured Oguchi Onyewu (slight knee sprain), and gave Hejduk the start on the right side of defense with Steve Cherundolo sidelined with a strained right hip.

The result was the U.S. backline was out of sync all night. Not really pressured all that much, the Americans gave up two very bad goals mainly because players were out of position.

Just as bad as the defensive confusion for more than the first hour was disorganization of the U.S. attack. El Salvador's Mexican coach, Carlos de los Cobos had his team playing extremely defensively right from the start, allowing the Americans pretty much unchallenged possession in their own end, but then attacking the ball aggressively and in numbers when the U.S. crossed the center stripe. The plan was to look for a quick counterattack off a turnover when the U.S. might be out of position.

That's what happened on the first Salvadorian goal in the 15th minute. U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who had an awful night overall, gave up possession to opposing striker Eliseo Quintanilla, who quickly played the ball out to the right flank to Osael Romero. Romero pushed it up to Rodolfo Zelaya with both U.S. central defenders -- Califf and Carlos Bocanegra -- rushing out to confront him. He beat both and gave the ball back to the middle to Romero. In the meantime Quintanilla rushed past the scrambling defense, took a short pass from Romero and slotted the ball under an advancing Guzan.

The sequence was a brilliant passing exhibition with a quality finish, but it was made possible by the wholesale disorganization of the U.S. back-line.

From the onset, well into the second half, the U.S. tried time and again to either to force the ball through the crowded middle or pass it over the top with long balls from the back, with little result. In the 62nd minute, Bradley made an important move that did not pay immediate dividends when he replaced left back Heath Pearce with forward Jozy Altidore, going from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 with Beasley assuming more defensive responsibility of the left side.

The move initially backfired when Beasley, clearly not a defender, allowed a ball to be crossed into the penalty area in the 72nd minute. With neither of the U.S. central defenders in position, El Salvador midfielder Cristian Castillo outjumped a scrambling Hejduk to head the ball under Guzan and on one hop into the net for a 2-0 advantage.

Then Hejduk took over. In the 77th minute, he beat defenders down the right side and sent a perfect cross to the far post where Altidore headed it home. Eleven minutes later, Hejduk was first to a bouncing ball in the box and flicked a hard header into the left side of the net to make it 2-2.

In the U.S.'s defense, Estadio Cuscatlán is as difficult a venue for a visiting team as any in the region and El Salvador is probably the most improved team in CONCACAF, with players like Quintanilla and defender Alfredo Pacheco maturing and with younger potential stars, such as Zelaya, Romero and Castillo emerging.


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 5: Not pressured most of the night, but should have done better on the second Salvadorian goal. Seemed shaky at times.

Defender Heath Pearce - 5.5: He seemed to have some problems with the speed he was facing and did not push forward effectively or often.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 7.5: Took the match on his shoulders over the final 20 minutes and made the difference. He put in a strong defensive performance, even though he allowed Castillo to elevate over him for El Salvador's second goal. when he had to scramble into the middle.

Defender Danny Califf - 4.5: His positioning was poor throughout the night and he was not where he should have been on either Salvadorian goal. Just coming back from injury, he looked rusty.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Not one of his better efforts. He obviously missed Onyewu in the middle and too often had to provide cover for others.

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 4: A very poor outing. The few good things he did were more than negated by frequent misplays. He has to do much better or he will be watching matches from the bench or on television.

Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He was good and bad in equal measure, and his worrisome tendency to excessive fouling and verbal disagreements led to a yellow card.

Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: An all too typical Donovan night. Absolutely brilliant at times, yet at other times one would be hard pressed to realize he was on the field.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 3.5: A forgettable night. His play raises the question whether he did so poorly because he is not playing for Glasgow Rangers or whether he is not playing in Scotland because he is playing so poorly like this.

Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: Like Donovan, he was brilliant in spots and then seemed to disappear for awhile. He did a lot of small things just right and suffered playing wide while the U.S. tried to force the ball up the middle or over he top.

Forward Brian Ching - 6: The unsung U.S. player. His work rate was terrific and his play was solid throughout.

Reserves

Forward Jozy Altidore (61st minute for Pearce) - 6.5: Took some time to settle in and made a couple of significant errors early, but once he found his pace, scored a great goal and was a constant threat over the final 15 minutes.

Midfielder José Francisco Torres (72nd minute for Kljestan) - 6.5: Did much better than the player he replaced. Probably earned himself a start in the near future.

Midfielder Maurice Edu (95th minute for Bradley) - no rating: Rushed on for the final moments to replace a bleeding Bradley.

SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Frankie Hejduk.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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