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Metal on the pitch and mud everywhere: USMNT survive chaos in El Salvador

13:00 BST 15/06/2022
Morris USMNT El Salvador 2022
The U.S. played in absurd conditions once again in a game that likely won't resemble any they play in come the fall.

Two red cards. Shards of metal on the field. Several melees, a big old monsoon and lots and lots of mud.

Just another day in CONCACAF for the U.S. men's national team.

In five months, the USMNT will be playing in some of the finest stadiums the world has to offer. They'll play on picture-perfect pitches in front of thousands of fans inside air-conditioned venues that are built to resemble paradise.

But, before that day, they had to survive CONCACAF one more time.

On Tuesday, their preparation for the World Cup continued in disgusting conditions in El Salvador. It was a game that taught us very little about the USMNT's ability to play in a World Cup, but it was also a game that had some overarching lessons that could help in Qatar.

"You had to battle a number of different elements," USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said. "You had some some referee decisions that are questionable. You had the weather conditions, whether it be pouring rain or the the field conditions, the mud that we're dealing with, some gamesmanship by the opponent.

"All of those things added together made for a number of different challenges that we had to overcome on that night and the guys really responded well.

"They stayed calm and they just kept working hard. It shows them I think that sometimes, the answer to these solutions is just working really hard."

In the end, the result was a 1-1 draw in a match that featured two dismissals and a whole bunch of dirty laundry. It was, in short, a muddy mess, barely even a soccer game.

The pitch was waterlogged, with the ball rolling as if it was triangular. The field, pregame, had metal scattered all over it, leftover remnants of a concert held earlier. The kits were muddied within moments and the game, as a whole, was anything but aesthetically pleasing.

The biggest blessing of the day was that the USMNT's biggest stars, such as Christian Pulisic, Weston Mckennie and Tyler made it through it all without suffering a catastrophic injury.

El Salvador's goal? A funky-looking, well-hit cross-shot from Alexander Lamin that left Ethan Horvath rooted to his spot. Horvath could and should have done better, but, in some ways, it was a goal worthy of this game: ugly, unexpected and, like most things in CONCACAF, a bit weird.

It only got weirder from there, too. Paul Arriola, a player that has generally had a good camp, was harshly sent off for a slide tackle in the 70th minute. Moments later, El Salvador's Ronald Gomez earned a red card of his own on a call that wasn't so harsh as he dragged down Yunus Musah on a wide-open breakaway chance.

But, as the puddles formed all over the pitch, the U.S. fought back. They pushed and pushed and pushed and, eventually, got their goal in stoppage time.

It was Jordan Morris who found it as he netted his first international goal since 2019. A global pandemic and an ACL tear have limited him in the years since and, in some ways, that makes him the perfect scorer for this night. In a game that saw the U.S. overcome adversity, their goalscorer was a player that had overcome a bit himself.

"Jordan came into the locker room after the game, and this is a guy that hasn't played much throughout this camp," Berhalter said. "And he walks into the locker room and the whole group went nuts and started cheering his name.

"That's what type of group this is. It's a selfless team."

Morris and the USMNT's celebration surely didn't feel like a Nations League celebration, but rather a World Cup-worthy moment of jubilation. With mud scattered all over them, the USMNT gathered as if they'd just accomplished something major.

It can be argued that they didn't. This is just the Nations League, after all, and this is just El Salvador. The U.S. won't face any more CONCACAF nonsense before kicking off in Qatar. El Salvador aren't England, Wales or Iran. Not even close.

But this was a game that gave the U.S. plenty of adversity to get through, and on a day where almost nothing went their way, they overcame.

For a young team, you can't drive that lesson home enough. They learned it several times through World Cup qualifying and, having celebrated that achievement for the last few months, it was driven home again.

“The group grows with moments like this,” Berhalter said. “After the game, Jordan Morris walks into the locker room and everyone starts cheering. Everyone's uniform is a dark brown color. The shoes are a mess. The staff is all dirty. This is what builds teams.”

The U.S. will be glad to put this game, and the Nations League, behind them. The kits from this may as well be burned as no amount of washing will remove the stains. This game, all of us hope, will be quickly forgotten and these highlights likely won't live long in the memory of those that watch this team's road to the World Cup.

Just two games stand between them and Qatar now, two more chances for players to make their cases and the U.S. to figure out some of their pressing problems. This wasn't a game that brought us much closer to those answers.

They'll be glad to forget about this muddy night in El Salvador, at least until the moment they have to remember it.

But do remember this day if the U.S. does find themselves in a moment where they have to overcome some stormy moments. Because nothing they face at the World Cup can be as bad as this, can it?