Like last meeting's 2-2 draw, the U.S. had to come from behind to get points off of El Salvador.
On home soil, in Rio Tinto Stadium, the talk before the game indicated that the U.S. would win heavily. It didn't happen that way.
A goal after only half an hour by Christian Castillo gave the Salvadorians a shock lead. Like the last time these two teams met, the U.S. had to dig itself out of a hole.
“No one wants to come back from down a goal,” said striker Charlie Davies. “It just showed that we have some fight and that we want to win the game. Obviously, we didn't play as well as we wanted to and we can't really have those things happen and get away with it like we did today against the better teams.”
Five minutes left to go in the half, the team turned it around. Landon Donovan supplied two gorgeous crosses for Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, respectively, to head home.
“The best part was the response when we went down,” coach Bob Bradley said in the post-game press conference. “It's never easy when you feel that pressure for a moment, but there was a real strong response from everybody on the field. That says a lot about what these guys are all about. They understand how difficult these games are, how competitive they are.”
Indeed, it was the veterans of the team that stood up. Donovan continued his excellent supply, Carlos Bocanegra locked down the backline, and Dempsey popped up with another crucial goal.
Donovan told reporters in the mixed zone that he feels a tremendous amount of responsibility for the team.
“I think all of us guys that have been here before realize in that moment the importance of what going down a goal to them meant,” Donovan asserted. “We had to respond quickly and getting the first goal was huge and getting the second goal before halftime was also important.”
What going down meant was that America's spot in the next World Cup was at jeopardy. With four teams -- the U.S., Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- all crammed in the top four spots in CONCACAF tightly, any slip-ups could have heavy ramifications.
Dempsey also understood what was at stake with only four games left in qualifying.
“If you don't take advantage of this game and take the three points, you're not going to be in the World Cup,” the Fulham man said. “Every kid's dream, ever player's dream is to be in the World Cup and represent your country. That's the biggest tournament on this earth.”
Trinidad and Tobago is next on the docket for the U.S., away in Port of Spain. After that match, only two more qualifiers stand between teams and a birth in the World Cup. It may not be the most stress-free way of going about it, but having the mental fortitude to come from behind and grind out wins is proving effective for the U.S.
Zac Lee Rigg, Goal.com
If you follow the U.S. Men's National Team, you'll love the dedicated page on Goal.com