Claudio Reyna, pictured when he played with the Red Bulls, said the 2004 World Cup qualifier with El Salvador: “It was strange to win the game and feel frustrated after as a team because we couldn’t open up and play for 90 minutes.” (AndyMead/YCJ Photo)
With the U.S. men’s national team preparing to play El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier, here’s a look back at one of the team’s more unusual matches on American soil – a WCQ in Foxborough, Mass. on Sept. 4, 2004 that FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis wrote at BigAppleSoccer.com more than 17 years ago.
By Michael Lewis
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It certainly wasn’t the prettiest win the U.S. ever recorded in World Cup qualifying, but the Americans weren’t about to give back the three points they earned in their 2-0 victory over El Salvador on Saturday.
The Americans survived a bizarre encounter that had just about every El Salvadoran on the ground at one time or another with a supposed injury, midfielder Denis Alas getting ejected for wearing illegal jewelry and 12 minutes of stoppage time.
The U.S. players and coach Bruce Arena claimed they never found their rhythm, but they found the back of the net enough to secure three qualifying points with a Wednesday encounter in Panama looming. The win ensured the U.S. (1-0-1, 4 points) first place in Concacaf Group A.
Panama (1-1-0, three) stunned host Jamaica (0-1-1, 1) with a rare win in Kingston, Jamaica – 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal by veteran striker Julio Dely Valdes. El Salvador (3 points) fell to 1-1-0.
The goals were scored by Brian Ching (eight-yard header in the fifth minute), his second qualifying goal in as many matches, and Landon Donovan (19-yard blast in the 69th minute), whose San Jose Earthquakes defeated the New England Revolution, 1-0, in the second game of a doubleheader before 25,266 spectators at Gillette Stadium.
“It was strange to win the game and feel frustrated after as a team because we couldn’t open up and play for 90 minutes,” U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said.
“The game had a little bit of everything. The only thing it lacked was probably flow. That was very frustrating for the players. From the first minute they tried to dive and get us yellow cards. It really ruined the game.”
What really ruined the game for the visitors was Alas’ 26th-minute ejection as received his second yellow card for wearing contraband jewelry. A day before the match both teams were warned that jewelry would not be tolerated. Several players on the U.S. bench alerted the fourth official to the gold chain around Alas’ neck. He threw it toward his bench, but referee Neal Brizan (Trinidad & Tobago) slapped him with his second yellow.
“Maybe he forgot,” El Salvador coach Juan Paredes said. “Nobody expected a red card for this.”
Paredes exploded, running onto the field, bumping the referee and getting ejected in the 29th minute. “Everything changed with the call,” he said.
Paredes needed to be restrained by team officials and a player from going after the referee. “It was very hard for me to accept that,” he said. “I made a mistake. It was the moment.”
Reyna commiserated with the Salvadorans. “It was really a bad call,” he said. “The player made a genuine mistake. It was a shame. They should have given him a warning and kept him on.”
Added Arena: “You’ve seen that stuff before. I can’t comment about it.”
Ching picked up where he left off in the 1-1 draw in Jamaica, heading in a Bobby Convey left-wing cross from eight yards in the fifth minute. Convey’s header hit the right post and bounded into the net behind goalkeeper Santos Rivera. Ching scored the equalizing goal against the Reggae Boyz in the 88th minute on Aug. 18.
“Our early goal essentially ended the game because they weren’t going to generate any chances,” said Arena, whose team outshot El Salvador, 19-1.
Donovan gave the Americans some much-needed breathing room in the 69th minute, running uncontested from right to left before firing home a 19-yard blast into the lower left corner. It was Donovan’s 17th career international score.
“Let’s face it, they weathered a big storm,” Arena said. “I don’t think 2-0 is a fair score. We could have scored more goals. I think we are a little guilty of that. Give El Salvador credit. They played with a lot of heart and did a decent job defensively. We missed the target too much today, as well. We had a few good looks at the goal, and we didn’t bury some of our chances.”