US struggle to keep focus amid El Salvador's "shocking" biting antics

PHILADELPHIA — Jozy Altidore has come to expect the unexpected in CONCACAF games.

But even nearly a decade on the US national team couldn’t prepare him for what happened in Wednesday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal contest against El Salvador.

While jockeying for position in the box during a second-half corner kick, Altidore was bit in the back shoulder by El Salvador’s Henry Romero right after getting his nipple twisted — a play that drew the ire of the American striker and sent shockwaves around the soccer world.

“It’s never happened to me before,” Altidore said following the USMNT’s 2-0 win. “But CONCACAF never ceases to amaze me.”

Altidore admitted that, at the time, he was “barely” able to keep his composure when he felt the bite but quickly realized he had to keep his cool and “move on from it.”

Afterwards, he was even able to make some jokes about the incident.

“My girl’s mad at me,” he said. “She’s mad at me, she’s mad at Romero, because she’s like, ‘Only I can bite you, only I can grab your nipples.’”

USMNT head coach Bruce Arena had some fun discussing the bite too, seemingly referring to some of Barcelona star Luis Suarez’s well-known antics.

“There’s a history of that in our sport, so … ,” Arena said, drawing laughs during his postgame press conference.

“You know, these games aren’t easy,” he added. “Clearly, I would think the referee doesn’t want to send anyone off. But it was a night where on a couple of occasions perhaps it would have got the game headed in the right direction. But I certainly didn’t see the play. Someone showed it to me afterwards. So I can’t fault the referee. Those things are not easy to see on the field.”

Although Romero didn’t draw a card on the play — he did, however, pick up a yellow later in the match — there could be a punishment coming later. According to a CONCACAF spokesman, it all depends on what the referee, with guidance from his assistant referees, puts in his postgame report and how he interpreted the play in question.

“If there’s something in the report that requires further review, then that can go to the disciplinary committee,” the spokesman told MLSsoccer.com.

Remarkably, Romero may not have even been the only El Salvador player to use his teeth. After the game, defender Omar Gonzalez told reporters that he too was the victim of a biting attack — although he wasn’t sure what player did it. The Univision broadcast featured a replay that indicated it was likely San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Darwin Ceren.

“When the guy bit me, I was a bit shocked,” Gonzalez said. “But you have to move on as quick as possible and look forward to the next play.

“You know what you’re getting into with these CONCACAF games and you have to stay focused, get through it, and keep on trying to play.”

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