Draw with El Salvador should be viewed as positive
Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's hard to blame United States star Landon Donovan for being a bit confused about how to react to his team's 2-2 draw at El Salvador in World Cup qualifying on Saturday.
After all, the United States entered the match with a 13-1-4 all-time record against El Salvador, a team that is regarded as the weakest of the remaining six teams in CONCACAF qualifying.
Also, the Central American side was ranked 106th in the world in the latest FIFA rankings, 89 spots below the Americans.
However, the USA did come from two goals down in the last 15 minutes to earn a point on the road.
So as Donovan flip-flopped between positive and negative when asked about the result after the game, you could understand his position.
"Anytime you come back and tie a game in the last 15 minutes there is a good feeling," Donovan said. "However, in some ways we feel like we lost a couple of points today."
While Donovan wasn't exactly thrilled to take just one point from the match, goalkeeper Brad Guzan saw the result in a more positive way.
"It's always difficult to come back from 2-0 down, especially in an environment like this," Brad Guzan said.
"It's always difficult to come back from 2-0 down, especially in an environment like this," the goalkeeper said. "So to show that fight, to show the resilience that we did, to get two goals in this atmosphere it's obviously a positive. It's good to take a point away."
Most, if not all, of the American players and coaches would have expected to take all three points from the game going into it, but it was the way that the team arrived at the draw that is cause for optimism.
"At the end of the day it's just good that everyone fought hard and never gave up, even when things weren't going our way, because obviously that game didn't go our way," said defender Frankie Hejduk, who scored the tying goal in the 88th minute.
"They played a good game, they came with more energy and they had the crowd behind them, they had that extra 12th man."
That extra 12th man made it extremely tough on the American players to communicate, and with many blue-clad fans climbing on security fences in excitement after their team scored, it made for quite a unique atmosphere.
"That was as loud and as exciting of a game that I've played in Central America," said Donovan, who has earned over 100 international caps. "Kudos to them for coming out and supporting their team."
But Hejduk is right to be pleased with his team's effort, especially after they played a pretty poor first 75 minutes.
The team generated a few chances early on, but after conceding the opening goal 15 minutes into the game, the Americans were always going to be up against it.
In these types of games it is important to take the crowd out of the match early and give the inferior team no reason for hope.
However, that went out the window with the opening goal, and the hosts were able to feed off the energy of the crowd and hold off their heavily-favored visitors.
With the attack lacking any real creativity as the game entered the second half, head coach Bob Bradley decided to take off defender Heath Pearce and bring on striker Jozy Altidore.
The move seemed to backfire as El Salvador took a two-goal lead 11 minutes later, but the 19-year-old Altidore began to assert himself physically, and despite not playing in a game in months, he looked very comfortable.
Everything was going against the Americans and it looked like defeat was inevitable as El Salvador players suddenly began dropping to the ground in agony and staying down for long spells in an attempt to waste valuable minutes.
A few of the U.S. players were visibly upset with the time-wasting tactic, but for the most part, they kept their poise and went right back to playing.
Hejduk provided a spark with a good cross to Altidore for the team's first goal, and suddenly they had life.
The play of Hejduk in particular has been a big positive for Bradley and his team with the Columbus Crew defender filling in at right back for the injured Steve Cherundolo and performing at such a high level.
With Hejduk in the lineup, the American attack has been given an added dimension as the 34-year-old California native has shown an ability to get forward up the right side and deliver some dangerous crosses into the box.
His play in recent games will make it tough for Bradley to take Hejduk out of the starting 11, but it is a nice problem to have.
The U.S. found an equalizer through Hejduk in the 88th minute, and they pressed for the winner throughout the seven minutes of stoppage time.
The draw was not the ideal result that Bradley would have been hoping for, but his team may have gained even greater confidence from the fact that they can come from two goals down in a hostile environment on the road and still get something from the match.
At the end of the day, the Americans still lead their qualifying group and are still very much on course to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
And after an experience like this in El Salvador, they will be even better for it.