U.S. takes charge, beats El Salvador

his first international goal in his first U.S. appearance -- to give the USA their first ever win in World Cup qualifying in Central America outside of Honduras.

Combined with the night's other Group A result, a 1-1 tie between Jamaica and Panama, the U.S. is now three points clear at the top of the group and can clinch a spot in the final round with a win against Panama on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.

El Salvador, desperate to gain three points on their home turf, came out looking to force the pace of the game, but ran into a strong three-man back line of Cory Gibbs, Gregg Berhalter and Eddie Pope that shut down the home side's attacks before they could develop into anything dangerous.

In fact, the USA appeared stronger in each area of the field in the first half. Landon Donovan and Kerry Zavagnin dominated the midfield throughout the match, and the strike force of McBride and Josh Wolff posted an early warning as well.

Just six minutes in, Wolff received a through ball on the right and played a perfect square ball for McBride to slot home easily, but Wolff was ruled offside.

A minute later, Clint Mathis tested El Salvador 'keeper Misael Alfaro with a free kick from 25 yards out, but Alfaro dove to his right to punch away the effort. Mathis had another golden chance to score on the quarter-hour, but he fanned on his attempt to finish off a well-placed drop pass from DaMarcus Beasley.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena slightly rearranged his formation form the U.S.'s 1-1 draw at Panama on Sept. 8, pushing Frankie Hejduk up to the midfield and employing a 3-5-2 scheme, with Mathis and Donovan serving as attacking midfielders ahead of holding midfielder Zavagnin. With regular captain Claudio Reyna missing due to injury, Arena was forced to find another creative midfielder, and while Donovan wore the captain's armband, it was Zavagnin who dictated the play in the first stanza.

In the 29th minute, a well-timed run and smart pass from Zavagnin led to the opening goal, McBride's 26th international tally. Zavagnin collected a pass and burst forward toward the penalty box before flicking to McBride, who turned Victor Velasquez and froze both he and Rafael Tobar with a series of stutter steps and small touches before rocketing a shot into the top corner.

U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller had little to do in the first half, easily saving the home side's only shots on goal, a 24th-minute shot and 42nd-minute header from former MLS striker Ronald Cerritos.

Eight minutes into the second half, Keller found slightly more to do, as midfielder Victor Merino shook off Berhalter near the endline before dropping a dangerous pass in front of the goal that the U.S. 'keeper had to cover. But at that point, El Salvador was lucky not to be down two goals. Just five minutes after the break, Donovan nearly scored his second goal in as many games this year against El Salvador, running onto a square ball from Wolff and hitting a low shot that forced Alfaro to dive to his right and make the save.

Though he didn't end up registering a goal, it was clear that the second half was Donovan's to own. The 22-year-old took control of the midfield after the break, and created the visitors' second goal in the 76th minute with one of his patented runs off the ball. Breaking into the penalty area, Donovan received a short through ball from Beasley, passed a defender and slid the ball along the top of the six-yard box where Johnson was there to tap in the insurance goal.

Midfielder Cobi Jones extended his U.S. record by making his 164th appearance, coming on in the 88th minute for Wolff, but he didn't need to provide any last-minute heroics this time, as by that time the result was assured.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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