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United States v El Salvador

Pulisic, McKennie and Adams start but Robinson steals show as USMNT move closer to Qatar with El Salvador triumph

05:40 EAT 28/01/2022
Antonee Robinson USMNT El Salvador 2022 WC qualifier
The fullback scored the goal vs El Salvador that was needed to keep the U.S. in the driver's seat on the road to the World Cup

Thursday night's World Cup qualifier was the first time in three years that Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams all started together.

Gregg Berhalter's big guns, the three true pillars of this young USMNT, were together again, offering a glimpse into what this team can look like at full strength.

But it wasn't McKennie, Adams or Pulisic that was made the real difference on Thursday night in a far-from-sexy win over El Salvador. Rather it was the team's go-to left back, a player that has solidified his spot as first-choice just as much as any of those three USMNT pillars.

Antonee Robinson scored the UMSNT's lone goal on Thursday, leading the way in a 1-0 win over El Salvador in chilly Columbus. The win keeps the U.S. in pole position to qualify for the World Cup, moving it one step closer to solidifying their spot in Qatar without too big of a sweat.

The goal came after yet another frustrating first half, a real reason for concern for the USMNT and Berhalter. Playing against an El Salvador team that is much, much better than most give them credit for, the U.S. was frustrated, both in terms of on-field play and in-head emotion, as the squad struggled to break El Salvador's back line down.

The bad news? The U.S. has now gone scoreless in the first half in seven of their nine World Cup qualifiers. The good news? The group tends to find igs way in the second half.

The Stars and Stripes did just that on Thursday, with Robinson's 52nd-minute goal easing any doubts before they had a chance to set in. It came as the result of a strong run from Tim Weah and some pure effort from Jesus Ferreira, the latter of whom squandered a pair of early chances after being handed the start ahead of Ricardo Pepi.

But, on this sequence, Ferreira made the difference, flicking on a pass towards Robinson, who rifled home his second career USMNT goal. And, much like his first, he celebrated with a now-trademark backflip as he pushed the U.S. into the lead.

It was a deserved goal for a player who has truly made the left back position his over the last few months with his play for both club and country.

At Fulham, Robinson, who has been linked to West Ham in recent weeks, has been a key figure in the club's promotion push.

Fulham have been decimating all in their way in the Championship as they sit first in the league. Since the start of the year, they've won each of their four games in the league by a combined score of 22-6 with Robinson providing a goal and two assists during that span.

With the U.S., Robinson has started five of the team's last six qualifiers, all but putting to rest the idea of inverting Sergino Dest to free up the logjam on the right. Sam Vines, George Bello and Joe Scally are all young players still in the mix, but the left back spot truly is Robinson's, something Berhalter admitted in the lead-up to Thursday's match.

"Antonee Robinson, it's a great story," Berhalter said. "The story's about a guy who doesn't make the Gold Cup team, and I say all the time just because you don't make one roster doesn't determine your status with the team indefinitely...Antonee is a guy who clawed his way back into it and is the clear starter at left-back.

"He's done a great job with his club. They're in great form. He's scoring goals. He's relentless attacking, and he's done a good job with us. He's had assists and goals in qualifiers and been rock steady back there."

He wasn't the only rock steady presence for the USMNT on Thursday. McKennie, in the form of his life with Juventus, was fantastic once again, marshaling the U.S. midfield. Weah showed dangerous flashes, making his own case for a spot in a crowded winger position.

But, as the U.S. squad continues to take shape, Robinson has given Berhalter one less thing to worry about.

With spots still up for grabs in central defense, on the wing, in goal and up top, there's no doubt who the USMNT's starting left back is.

Like Pulisic, McKennie and Adams, Robinson is a penciled-in, full-time USMNT starter and, on Thursday night, he helped the U.S. inch their closer to its end goal.