Preamble: Good evening, and welcome to another exciting round of World Cup Qualifying. Tonight's match between Team America and El Salvador comes to you from the crown jewel of MLS stadia, Real Salt Lake's gorgeous Rio Tinto.
Team America currently occupies unfamiliar territory, sitting in third place in the CONCACAF standings with qualification by no means a sure thing. This had led many fans to wonder, "Just how will Bob Bradley screw up in this match?"
My money is on Bradley to continue to ignore Jonathan Spector.
Spector showed the world that he was one of the USA's best defensive options—the other being Oguchi Onyewu—during the Confederations Cup, and was rewarded by being ignored by Bradley in last month's match in Mexico City.
Speaking of Onyewu, he's out for tonight's match due to yellow card accumulation.
His replacement, Jay DeMerit, is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury. Expect to see a lot of Carlos Bocanegra in this one, and some Steve Cherundolo.
As for Bradley, he needs to coach each match from here until South Africa as if his job depends on it. If Team America somehow misses out on the World Cup, he will be fired.
A poor showing in South Africa could also see Bradley joining the unemployment line.
If Bradley would like Sunil Gulati to continue to sign his paychecks, he needs to put out an aggressive side and attack.
Team USA! USA! USA!
Howard, Spector (hooray!), Marshall, Bocanegra, Bornstein, Dempsey, Donovan, Feilhaber, Bradley, Davies, Altidore (double hooray!)
Montes, Henriquez, Umanzor, Flores, Gonzalez, Salazar, Alvarez (an American), Quintanilla, Castillo, Sanchez, Zelaya
Jose Pineda, from Honduras. Great, from CONCACAF. I'm sure he's really good at his job.
Prediction: Davies and Altidore mean that the Americans will have plenty of bite in attack. Team America defeats EL Salvador, 4-1 .
Anthems: I always enjoy listening to other national anthems. The El Salvadorian anthem sounds like it should be played at a horse race. Lots of people singing along, should we be worried? Is there a big Salvadorian population hiding among the Mormons in Salt Lake City?
The U.S. anthem...it's one of the most unsingable anthems in the world, and the fans are rushing through it.
Let's get to the football!
Team America kicks off, wearing their white home stripe. El Salvador in blue.
A very early corner kick for the US. Donovan takes it, but Montes comes out to collect.
A good sign for the Americans.
Montes collects another Donovan cross, and boots it out for a US throw.
How kind of him.
So far, the US is enjoying all of the possession.
A dive from El Salvador leads to a set piece 40 yards out.
It's almost touched by Zalaya right in front of Howard.
Instead, goal kick.
Bornstein just gave the ball away with the worst touch I've ever seen.
Meanwhile, Chad Marshall is called for offensive pass interference despite the fact that he was wrapped up in a huge bear hug by Sanchez.
Can we please not use CONCACAF referees for anything, ever?
DAVIES! He latches onto a through-ball into the box, at a tough angle.
He fires his shot low, and off the post.
The US controls the rebound and Donovan draws a foul just outside the box, 20 yards or so from goal.
After some shoving in the box, Donovan finally puts his cross into the box.
It's low, and off an ankle.
Could've taken a shot at goal there, except the Salvadoran wall had crept up to within four feet of Donovan.
14 min: We've got a bit of pinball on the pitch, until Bradley controls the ball and finds Spector making a run down the right. Spector suffers from some serious indecision, and hangs on to the ball for a little too long.
We've got our first ridiculously puzzling refereeing decision of the night.
Dempsey is fouled, and the whistle is blown. But, in the brief time between the foul and whistle, Dempsey was called for a foul, and the ball is given to El Salvador.
None of that matters. T
he US won a corner kick, but young Jozy Altidore failed to make the trap at the far post.
Goal kick El Salvador.
Free kick to the Salvador as they enjoy their first extended spell of possession.
Davies came in on a tackle from behind.
He avoids a card, but this could be dangerous. Good news, El Salvador is terrible on set pieces.
Bradley tries his luck from about 30 yards out.
It's a decent effort, but not on target.
I like the early aggression from the US.
Dempsey with one of the worst passes I've ever seen in international football.
It was 10 yards away from anybody.
Throw-in for El Salvador.
This team misses Onyewu and DeMerit.
The defense is not organized at all, and Tim Howard slays a defender in front of his teammates as a warning.
See 21 min, replace "Dempsey" with "Bornstein."
Some nifty footwork by Davies frees him up to put in a cross to Dempsey.
Deuce's shot is just wide, but that was the best move of the match so far.
Please sir, I want some more.
Free kick for the U.S., 40 yards out on the left wing.
Donovan to work his magic, and, by that, I mean whip it into the wall/a defender.
Nope, it found Bocanegra's head, but he couldn't do anything with it.
Michael Bradley was wanting it, and probably would have scored.
Good ball, Landon.
See 26 min.
Castillo puts El Salvador up 1-0 with a header that completely wrong-foots Howard.
If I'm being totally honest, that was Bornstein's fault.
His "clearance" fell right to Zalaya, who had loads of space.
It was a simple matter for him to put the cross in.
Howard makes a great save as his defense collapses like a flan in the cupboard.
He's blowing a gasket right now.
This would be funny if it weren't so sad.
DAVIES! El Salvador gets caught napping, and Davies nearly makes them pay.
He pokes his shot past Montes, but also past the post by this much.
Montes decides to feign injury.
He must have been stabbed by a blade of grass. Shouldn't this be a yellow card?
Spector trying to get forward and create something.
He earns a throw-in, then Marshall earns a free kick. Not bad.
Dempsey fails to finish, somehow.
Spector puts in a great cross, which finds Dempsey's forehead eight yards out.
Dempsey, rather than putting a shot on target, fires directly into the ground, and the ball bounces over the bar.
Davies with his third great chance!
Montes came off his line, but Davies beat him to the ball and slid a shot toward goal.
A Salvadoran defender was there to clear off the line.
That really should have been 1-1.
Another US set piece after an El Salvador handball.
Donovan steps up once again...GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!
This time, Dempsey doesn't miss. He puts his diving header past a helpless Montes, and it's 1-1.
Great service, great goal.
The replay shows that Dempsey was the only US player onsides during that set piece.
Quintanilla lines up a long shot, but Marshall thankfully decides to put his body in front of it.
Dempsey channels his inner Brazilian, with a rabona to Bradley.
Bradley finds Davies, who runs at the end line and attempts to cut a pass back to the center.
El Salvador clears, but the US is creating chances at will right now.
A great cross by Spector finds Altidore, who earns a corner. It's cleared for another corner, which comes to nothing.
Yet another superb cross from Donovan finds Altidore, who places his header in the same spot as Dempsey.
2-1 to Team America, and Jozy and Davies dance seductively in the corner.
Team America's play in the last five minutes begs the question—why couldn't they just play like this all the time?
They've dominated the match the entire time, and El Salvador's only goal came on a terrible defensive lapse by Jonathan "DaMarcus Beasley" Bornstein.
Donovan and Davies have been the two best players on the pitch tonight, with Spector right behind them.
The last several times I've seen Spector play, he's been brilliant.
What does he have to do to become Bradley's first choice?
My buddy Adam has a theory with regards to Spector, "Maybe he accidentally ran over Bradley's dog with a steamroller." That would explain it.
Meanwhile, Brazil is leading Argentina 2-0. That match could be potentially awful for CONCACAF. If Argentina slips up any more, they'll be playing off against the 4th-place CONCACAF team for a ticket to South Africa.
Bob, I hope you're listening.
And we're back!
Can The Salvador regain their footing, or was the barrage at the end of the half too much?
Donovan launches a ferocious shot from 30 yards out, and doesn't miss by much.
He had acres of space.
Spector getting forward again, but his cross goes out for a goal kick.
El Salvador sub: Alvarez off, Romero on.
Another cross from Spector finds Altidore, but the US pulls back for some reason.
The US is firing from distance.
This time, it's Bradley shooting just over the bar.
As per usual for CONCACAF opponents, Zalaya flops like a dead fish in the box, hoping to draw a penalty.
Our esteemed referee has pulled back a clean Altidore strike for offsides.
Replay shows that Jozy was onside by at least a yard.
Terrible, terrible officiating.
Pineda made the offside call despite no flag from the assistant. See why I keep railing against CONCACAF refs?
Apparently, Pineda whistled Dempsey for a foul as he was feeding Jozy with the beautiful through-ball.
Replay reveals that Pineda is, in fact, a moron.
While I'm writing that sentence, El Salvador gets away with a deliberate handball. Fix!
Bradley turns it over in a bad spot, and The Salvador are very unlucky not to equalize.
Of course, it should be 3-1.
Meanwhile, Altidore is called for a dive as he is hacked down.
Aren't you supposed to get calls at home?
Dempsey on a breakaway! Aaaaand, he puts his shot right into Montes' stomach. T
hat was very, very poor.
Go for a chip, anything but straight into the keeper.
Some nice work from Altidore and Spector leads to nothing.
Sigh...this is not polished stuff from the US.
Dempsey, Feilhaber and Bradley engage in some great passing, and earn a throw.
It was a brief moment of Arsenal-esque ball movement.
Then they lose possession, very unlike Arsenal.
Davies is hurt.
He went down in the box, and it looked like he might have jammed his knees into the turf a little hard.
He's limping badly, and will be done.
Stu Holden is coming on, and we could see Dempsey move up front.
Jozy is called for offsides, and he heartily disagree.
I'd like to take this opportunity to admit that I have a man-crush on Stu Holden.
The Salvador sub: Corrales on, Quintanilla off.
Good news on Daviesit's not the knee, just a bruise on the outside of his calf.
He's hopeful about playing on Wednesday.
Kyle Beckerman's dreadlocks are preparing to enter the match.
Beckerman on, Feilhaber off.
The Real Salt Lake fans give Beckerman a nice ovation.
Zalaya is booked for throwing a tantrum like a four-year old who's had his favorite toy stolen.
A dangerous moment for the US as they struggle to clear an El Salvador cross. The Salvador (yes, I'm doing that on purpose) might have been dominated for the first 80 minutes, but you can't fall asleep on a counterattack.
The US is just trying to play keep-away when really, they'd be better served by attacking some more and keeping The Salvador on their heels.
Team America sub: Jose Francisco Torres on, Altidore off. Great match for Altidore.
Stu Holden does a great job of clearing a corner.
Hopefully Bornstein was watching.
Meanwhile, Argentina have pulled one back. It's 2-1 in the 65th minute in Rosario.
Howard comes up with a great save from close range on Reyes—who was probably offsides, but we'll ignore that.
That preserved the lead.
See 26 min. Replace "Bornstein" with "Beckerman."
Out of nowhere, Holden launches a great cross into the box. Torres gets a head to it, and only a spectacular save from Montes keeps it from being a 3-1 match.
Dempsey tries to volley the rebound home, but it's just wide. He's a special player, Holden.
It's now 3-1 to Brazil, that looks to be over.
It's frenzied football in Salt Lake.
The Salvador are desperate.
Panicked, terrible clearances for the US as Bocanegra is scythed down in the box. That should be it, the US hangs on for a gritty 2-1 victory.
Yeah, the US got the three points they needed, but it was alternately great football and sloppy play.
They need to clean up their act on Wednesday against Trinidad and Tobago, and maintain a high level of play until they can book their tickets to South Africa.