USMNT beats El Salvador and nears World Cup qualifiers


US full-back Antonee Robinson celebrates scoring his second crucial goal of the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle, a winner against El Salvador on Thursday in Columbus. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

If football games only lasted 45 minutes, the US men’s national team would be on the verge of missing another World Cup. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. Not after Thursday night, after another frustrating first half, another 45-minute stalemate against a country one-fiftieth the size of the United States.

It was game 9 of a 14 round qualifier. It was also the ninth time the USMNT had trudged into a dressing room without a lead at halftime. And it was the ninth time that there was something between horror and uneasiness within a panicked fan base.

Then, as has often been the case since the cycle began in September, there was a reaction. A surge in the second half. And a significant step towards the 2022 World Cup.

Antonee Robinson scored a winning goal in the 51st minute. The USA beat El Salvador 1-0. It jumped to the top of the North and Central American qualifiers chart for a moment. The Americans are unlikely to end the night there – Canada will reclaim pole position if they can beat Honduras – but they are well on their way to Qatar.

In fact, they have been for months. But the sluggish first half has made the campaign more tense and tiring than a simple results list would suggest. The USA only scored twice before half-time. If the games ended there, the record would be 0-8-1.

But four months ago there was a comeback in Honduras. The months that followed saw breakthroughs against Jamaica, Costa Rica and Mexico in the second half. On Thursday there was another, kindly provided by the man, Robinson, who started the turnaround in San Pedro Sula long ago.

Now with just five games left and maybe just two more wins are needed and there’s little doubt the USA will get them.

However, at half-time in Columbus, there were some doubts about Thursday’s result. By the end of the 90 minutes on Thursday, the The performance looked dominant on paperbut for a while it was anything but.

In the first half there were chances – especially for US striker Jesus Ferreira – but only missed chances. There was asynchronous press, Christian Pulisic giveaways and seething frustration.

But then the goal came and the American attackers rushed forward and Pulisic caught his breath, followed by Canada on Sunday and Honduras next week.

The gauntlet ends in March with trips to Mexico and Costa Rica and a home date in Panama. The worst case scenario currently appears to be fourth place and an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. The far more likely outcome is a top three spot and a plane ticket to Qatar in November.

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