The young Americans got a point. And an eye-opener.
It’s one thing for U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter to tell his players, most of whom had never played in a World Cup qualifier before, how difficult the Concacaf games are. The packed stadiums. The boisterous fans. The patchy fields. The debris that’s thrown. The feisty opponents punching above their weight.
It’s quite another to experience it, and now the Americans have.
The USMNT salvaged a tie against a scrappy El Salvador team Thursday night, coming away with a point after squandering a handful of good chances. But considering only Mexico won its opener in the final round of Concacaf qualifying, the 0-0 result in San Salvador could have been much worse.
“All these games are going to be hard-fought,” said Berhalter, who knew what to expect, having experienced World Cup qualifying as a player. “Any intention of us coming here and winning 3-0, it was going to be really challenging. They’re dog fights.
“Much as I wanted to win this game, and we did want to this game and the attitude and the play was to win the game, we’ll take the point and move on.”
The U.S. plays Canada on Sunday in Nashville. The USMNT wraps up this first qualifying window with a game in Honduras on Wednesday.
American soccer fans still haven’t recovered from the shock of the USMNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. No doubt some will see the tie against El Salvador, a team the U.S. men are 18-1-6 all-time against, as more of the same.
But this team barely resembles that squad. Only six players on the 25-man roster had played in a World Cup qualifier, and one of them, Christian Pulisic, was back in Nashville trying to regain his fitness after a bout with COVID-19.
While this group of Americans is loaded with talent — 10 are on European teams that are still playing in the Champions League, and they defeated archrival Mexico for the titles in two different tournaments this summer — they are inexperienced. Especially in this setting.