Friday, September 04, 2009

ATH: USA v El Salvador

Scouting Report: El Salvador

By Clemente Lisi -- -- This year will long be remembered as a season of unexpected thrills for the United States National Team. Although the US will go without any silverware, the team did gain valuable experience along the way.

All that will mean zilch if the US fails to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. With four games left in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, the US is heavily favored to reach the finals, but a loss against El Salvador Saturday could seriously put the entire effort to reach South Africa at risk.

The US tied El Salvador 2-2 on the road earlier this year. Holding an all-time record of 13-1-5 against the Salvadorians, the US has never lost to them in World Cup qualifying, posting a mark of 4-0-3. Although those are great stats, history alone won’t be enough for the US at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

A slip up, and the Americans could find themselves having to deal with the math as they try to avoid finishing fourth and having to play-off for the final World Cup slot. Changing their game in the second-half should see the United States safely through. That was the problem against Brazil and Mexico, but nobody should be puting up El Salvador as that level of opponent home or away. Tricky? No doubt. That requires the US to be careful while establishing their game on Saturday night.

The US (3-2-1, 10 points) is tied for second place in the six-team Hexagonal standings with Honduras and behind leaders Costa Rica (4-2-0, 12 points). El Salvador (1-2-3, 5 points) is tied for sixth with Trinidad & Tobago, which hosts the US next Wednesday.

The US will play an El Salvador that features a familiar face -- Texas-born midfielder Arturo Alvarez, who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes. The 24-year-old Alvarez, who is of Salvadorian descent, opted earlier this year to play for the his parents' homeland despite appearing for the US at the Under-18 and 20 levels. He made his El Salvador debut last month against Trinidad & Tobago as a second-half sub. His speed and creativity are weapons the Salvadorians hope to employ against the US.

“I am happy to be with the team,” said an upbeat Alvarez. “We have good players. I'm confident of our chances against a very good US team.”

El Salvador coach Carlos de los Cobos said his team could get the win, although he added that he has great respect for the Americans.

“We are here with the enthusiasm and responsibility required to get a victory,” he told reporters in San Salvador on Tuesday. “The match against the US will determine our future. I think we can get the win. We have to maintain this attitude and convince ourselves that we can get a result.

El Salvador employs a counterattacking style that has caused opponents plenty of difficulty. Given the Salvadorians compact nature and experience of offensive players such as Christian Castillo and Eliseo Quintanilla, the US will need to lock down its defense and midfield as much as possible in order to get any points. The Americans will also need to possess the ball for longer stretches and generate more offense (neither of which they did against Mexico in their last game).

Strikers Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore, aided by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan (who has recovered from swine flu) will light up Bradley's 4-2-2-2 formation. El Salvador will counter with a conservative 4-2-2 lineup, which will give the Americans little room on the wings and down the middle.

In addition, the Americans' one-on-one defending - something that was tested on the road against Mexico - will need to improve. The US will have a gaping hole in the back since it will be without the services of Oguchi Onyewu, who will miss the match because of a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Once again, Bradley’s depth will be tested. What will work for Bradley in the back is plenty of hustle, no matter which combination of players he decides to go with in defense.

The US will play for the first time at Rio Tinto Stadium and only for the second time in Utah. During qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, two goals from Landon Donovan helped the US trounce Costa Rica, 3-0, on June 4, 2005, at Rice Eccles Stadium.

History is on the US’s side – in both good and bad ways. El Salvador has always proven a weak opponent on US soil. They would have to show a lot on Saturday night for that to change.

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