US 2 -- El Salvador 1

El Salvador v United States

El Salvador gave the U.S. a whole lot to handle on Saturday night, but in the end the Americans pulled through, winning the important World Cup Qualifier 2-1 in Salt Lake City. The U.S. - who now has 12 points from seven games in the final qualification round - moves into second place with the win, trailing Honduras only on goal differential. Despite the eventual victory, the game got off to an inauspicious start for the Yanks. El Salvador even took the lead in the 32nd minute when Cristian Castillo headed over the head of an outstretched Tim Howard.

Down a goal at home and needing a win to set the pace for qualification rivals Mexico and Honduras (both of whom would play later in the evening), the Americans responded to El Salvador's goal with one of their own in the 42nd. Clint Dempsey was the hero for the Nats, as he headed home a Landon Donovan free kick for his first goal of qualifying.

After Dempsey's goal it looked like the sides would head into the break knotted at 1, but the Americans kept attacking and their efforts paid off in the 45th minute when Jozy Altidore headed home another Donovan cross to give the U.S. the lead. The 20-year-old Altidore - who now has five goals in qualifying - looked to have scored again in the 58th minute but the tally was disallowed by the referee for a reason completely unbeknownst to not only me, but everyone else other than the referee.

El Salvador - desperate for a second goal - picked up the pace in the second half, but their countless forays into the American third were thwarted by the defense (and occasionally themselves...). They came closest to equalizing in the 87th minute, but William Reyes's short range effort was nicely saved by Tim Howard.

The man of the match for the Americans? For me it has to be Landon Donovan. Donovan - who took the all-time lead in World Cup Qualifiers played in with the appearance - provided excellent service on the two assists and was the driving force in the U.S. attack all night. If Donovan has another good game on Wednesday night in Trinidad, expect the U.S. (who will be given a boost by the return of AC Milan center back Oguchi Onyewu to the lineup) to get another three points and start to distance themselves from the tightly knit pack a little bit...

Overall, I didn't think the Americans performed very well in tonight's match. They left at least a couple goals on the field and the defending on El Salvador's tally was weak at best. They'll need to step it up a lot if they want to get one of the three automatic qualification spots allocated to CONCACAF as their remaining schedule (@ Trinidad and Tobago, @ Honduras, Costa Rica) isn't so easy...

**A quick look at the standings...**

As you can see [here](http://soccernet.espn.go.com/round?league=fifa.worldq.concacaf&season=2010&seasonType=4&cc=5901), the table for CONCACAF's final round of qualification is a bit muddled. As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. currently sits in 2nd place in the group - needing only to finish third or better to receive one of CONCACAF's coveted automatic bids to South Africa. However, with 1st-4th place separated by only one point, a lot could change over the final three games of qualifying. I'm hoping the U.S. keeps getting results and finishes in one of the top three spots - as the 4th place team has the less than enviable task of facing South America's 5th place team in a two-game playoff for a World Cup spot...

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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