The United States came into tonight’s match desperately needing three points as they attempted to keep a clean slate on home soil. They entered the match sitting in third place in CONCACAF with 10 pts behind Costa Rica (12 pts), Honduras (10 pts w/+ 2 goal differential), and only 1 pt ahead of Mexico after last months 2-1 loss at Azteca Stadium.  With Mexico playing at Costa Rica and Honduras hosting Trinidad & Tobago, the US could ill-afford to tie or loss tonight in Utah. El Salvador came into the match needing three points to keep their fading World Cup hopes alive.

The US started the match by controlling the possession, but it became apparent early on that they would significantly miss the presence of Oguchi Onyewu, who was unavailable due a yellow card accumulation suspension, and Jay DeMerit, who injured his groin during training this week. Their absence cause Coach Bob Bradley to move Carlos Bocanegra back to central defender and Jonathan Bornstein at left back. Chad Marshall also earned the start beside Bocanegra after a strong Gold Cup.

A poor clearance by Bornstein and passive defending by Bocanegra, Marshall and Michael Bradley led to the US conceding the first goal around the 32′ minute of the first half. Unfortunately, neither the defenders, Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey learned from this mistake as the US repeatedly gave away the ball in very dangerous places on the pitch. If this continues, even if the US advances to South Africa, it won’t matter because they won’t get out of their group unless they get the easiest draw of the tournament. As a matter of fact, if the US doesn’t begin to play better they will be fortunate to qualify for the World Cup at all.

The US responded nicely to being down a goal, although poor finishing almost cost them in this match. Dempsey wasted a clear opportunity to bury the ball in the back of the net on a header less than five minutes after going down a goal. Dempsey also made a poor attempt on a one-on-one with the El Salvadorian keeper, though one must concede he did make a 50-yard run so perhaps he was out of gas. Dempsey’s only redemption is that it was on his second good opportunity around the 40′ min that he buried the ball in the net off a beautiful set piece.

Interestingly, in a game with a lot of very suspicious officiating (isn’t it ironic that the crew for this match was from Honduras), it was the excellent judgment of the assistant referee to recognize that Dempsey was onsides when no less than three other US players were in an offside position, that allowed the US to draw even in the match.

Less than 1 minute before the end of the half, Landon Donovan served a beautiful ball to Jozy Altidore that he buried to give the US a 2-1 lead at halftime. Later Altidore was robbed on a phantom foul where scored after a great effort by Dempsey. The referee said that a foul was committed, but replays clearly show that neither Dempsey or Altidore committed a foul. Here’s hoping that goal differential doesn’t come into play for the US.

After the referee took the ball out of the net for the US, negating a 3-1 advantage, it seemed that the US became much too defensive in their strategy, settling for counter attacks and allowing El Salvador way too much possession in the attacking third. Bob Bradley’s weakness as a tactician becomes more and more apparent when the game gets close, but I do have to applaud the fact that he actually used all three substitutes, although it amazes me how often his use of substitutes is reactionary to the line-up changes made by his opponent.

Overall is was a mediocre effort by the US, but it did seem that they were effected by the erratic decisions of the Honduran officiating crew. They clearly missed Onyewu and DeMerit defensively. Overall, here’s how I’d rank the players based on tonight’s performance (scale 1-10).

GK Tim Howard: 5  Howard made a stunning save in the 87′ min at point blank range to save the match. However, he was badly out of position on the first goal is shares some blame for the US having to play from behind.

LB Jonathan Bornstein: 2  I think tonight it became crystal clear that the US has a MAJOR problem at the LB position. Edgar Castillo at least deserves a look when he becomes eligible to play for the US. Bornstein’s poor clearance led to the first goal. He also held the El Salvadoran player onsides on the goal that almost was in the 87′ min.

CB Carlos Bocanegra: 4  Boca continues to be unimpressive whether at CB or LB, but Bradley will continue to play him regardless of how he plays. He shows him the same kind of loyalty he showed Damarcus Beasley (who I still think we may see in South Africa if he starts to get some regular club time (much to my chagrin)

CB Chad Marshall: 5  Not a bad effort. He was picked on early by the center official and called for some weak and/or phantom fouls. Overall not bad, but not spectacular

RB Jonthan Spector: 6  Solid effort. Well involved offensively.

LM Clint Dempsey: 4  If not for the goal that evened the score Dempsey would be ranked much lower. He missed 3 golden opportunities to score and could have easily had a hat trick tonight. He continue to be a liability defensively and gives the ball away too easy in the midfield because he refuses to play the simple ball. I think Bradley should use Dempsey as a striker.

CM Benny Feilhaber: 6  Played well. Good on the ball. Good work rate.

CM Michael Bradley: 5  Overall I thought this pairing at midfield was the best that Bradley has put together. However, Bradley had some key turnovers that didn’t cost the US, but easily could against a better opponent.

RM Landon Donovan: 8  Great game. Good enery and effort on both ends of the pitch. Assisted both goals.

F Charlie Davies: 7  Continues to impress with work rate and nose for being around the goal. Sometimes is a bit too selfish but has locked down a starting job.

F Jozy Altidore: 6  Looked good for someone who wasn’t “fit”. Deserved better on the goal that would have put the US up 3-1.

Substitutes:

Stuart Holden: 8  Brings good energy off the bench. Serves the ball as well as anyone on the roster.

Kyle Beckermen: 3 I didn’t like this substitution (came in for Feilhaber) and he proved my instinct right. He looked nervous, timid and out of place. I hope we don’t see him again anytime soon.

Jose Torres: 6 Hard to rate because he only played about 10 minutes, but he brought good energy and pressured the ball. Had a fantastic power-header that required a brilliant save by the El Salvadorian keeper. He deserved a goal there. Good to see him back on the pitch. Nice to know that perhaps our most talented holding midfielder hasn’t been forgotten by Bradley.

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