LATE KLJESTAN GOAL GIVES US VICTORY
The US Men's National Team kicked off their home stretch towards this summer's World Cup with a last minute 2-1 win against El Salvador at a cold and wet Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday night.
With weather conditions more befitting those the English Premiership, the US players were aggressive from the onset emerging from the locker room with an aggressive mindset that challenged El Salvadorian goalkeeper Miguel Montes.
In the 5th minute, the US produced its first serious challenge on Montes when Robbie Rogers' corner kick found the feet of Kyle Beckerman who slammed it high of the bar from 20 yards out. Three minutes later, the Central American net minder was pressed into action again when he stretched to barely deflect an attempt from Connor Casey.
Los Cuscatlecos, under the tutelage of new head coach Jose Luis Rugamas, produced their first serious goal scoring opportunity in the 20th minute as Marvin Gonzales and Juan Carlos Moscoso combined toward the US box, but were thwarted by US Captain Jonathan Bornstein and the American's only non-MLS player in the match Clarence Goodson. The IK Start man headed the ball out of danger from a Deris Umanzor cross.
The visitors continued to push forward and almost got on the scoreboard in the 28th minute as Osael Romero's shot from the top of the box sailed high and wide.
Forward Connor Casey showed in the final 15 minutes of the first half why he might be on Bradley's 23 man roster come this summer when he helped spearhead three separate scoring chances.
Fifteen minutes shy of halftime, Casey gathered in a pass down the left side and fed a pass to a streaking Sacha Kljestan who hammered a shot on goal only to see a well-positioned Montes come up with the save.
Just minutes later, Casey himself had a look at goal but his shot was rebuffed by Montes who then thwarted the rebound effort by Rogers at the near post.
In the 39th minute the Colorado Rapids man cleverly dodged three Salvadorian defenders and took a shot while entering the box, but the rebound was magically gifted to Kljestan who couldn't get it past the CD Aguila keeper.
Halftime saw Bradley make a couple changes with Houston Dynamo striker Brian Ching replacing Casey up front and Eddie Gaven taking Brad Davis spot in the midfield.
The early stages of the second half saw the Red, White and Blue put together several decent chances but the match would take a drastic turn in the 59th minute when El Salvador grabbed the lead against the run of play.
Rudis Corrales took advantage of a lapse by defender Brad Evans down the left flank and rushed towards goal before slipping a shot past Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando to give the Salvadorians the lead.
The Americans quickly set out to answer the shocking goal but efforts by Ching, Gaven and Goodson all went awry as the clock continued ticking.
The breakthrough for Bradley's squad finally arrived in the 74th minute when Pearce brought the ball in from the left and sent it into Ching, who scored the equalizer using his height, heading it in lower left, past Montes.
Boosted by the equalizing goal, the US came back to full form in an offensive rally, but their initial efforts didn't prevail.
Rogers took shot in the 78th minute that went just wide much to the dismay of Ching who was left begging for the ball at the far post. A minute later, Cunningham ran down another ball and served it to Ching who took a shot at it, but it was saved again by Montes.
The Columbus Crew man had another look at goal in the 81st minute when he played the ball back and forth with Ching leading into the box, but was unsuccessful with his shot, as it glanced off the crossbar.
The referee called four minutes of injury time, which seemed to give the US an extra offensive boost and it manifested itself in the 92 minute when Kljestan said he was able capitalize off of a lazy El Salvadorian defense to produce the game winner.
"They were playing with the ball a lot in the back tonight, I felt the guy had his head down and he wouldn't see me coming, he was blind sighted," Kljestan explained to YA following the match.
"I picked his pocket."
Kljestan and Ching combined for a textbook give and go resulting in the game winning goal.
"Ching played me a good ball back," Kljestan said crediting his teammate for setting him up for the winning shot.
The US was hungry for more goals and just before the whistle both Cunningham and Geoff Cameron tried to even further secure the US win, but neither resulted in any extra gain.
For Bradley, the match was one where he was able to extract some good things despite trailing a bulk of the second half.
"I thought there were a lot of positives and it was good on the whole," said a pleased Bradley after the match.
Bradley will reveal his roster for the USMNT's next match on Thursday. The US travel to Amsterdam, Holland to take on the Dutch on March 3rd.