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United States beat El Salvador to get closer to World Cup

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United States beat El Salvador to get closer to World Cup

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As it turned out, the goal celebration provided the final dramatic moment of the match.

Seconds after American defender Antonee Robinson scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal for the Americans in their 1-0 win over El Salvador on Thursday night, he swept away from the net, swung his hand then stopped by grabbing his left hamstring. Playing in 30-degree temperatures – US Soccer had scheduled the match in Columbus, Ohio, in January in an attempt to gain a mental, if not meteorological, advantage over their Central American rivals – had suddenly seemed to backfire.

Robinson, however, was only joking. He quickly transformed his anxious (false) steps into a strut in its own right, to the delight of his teammates and the immense relief of his coaches. And just like that, the United States took a step closer to a place in this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

The victory, combined with other results in a chilly evening of qualifying matches in North and Central America and the Caribbean, kept the United States in contention to take control of their qualifying group in an important matchup with Canada on Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario. When the final whistle sounded in Columbus, Canada was leading Honduras at halftime.

United States coach Gregg Berhalter made just one notable change to his roster on Thursday, inserting Jesús Ferreira, a surprise starter ahead of former FC Dallas teammate Ricardo Pepi, as a striker. Ferreira offered energy, movement and great connections in the first half. But he failed to convert two excellent chances in the first 20 minutes, and the Americans drifted into the half with the majority of possession and a near monopoly on frustration.

The breakthrough came early in the second half, after Timothy Weah let go of his defender and fired a shot at the near post that ricocheted off the goalkeeper and high in the air in the 52nd minute. A header through goal eluded players from both teams and bounced directly past Robinson, who buried a point shot with his left foot.

The goal and 1-0 deficit seemed to annihilate the Salvadorans, who have now been shut out in five of their nine qualifiers. A comeback seemed out of reach even before Robinson’s injury gag: El Salvador have yet to score two goals in any of their final round matches. Finding two against the United States in the cold was far from an option.

But the Americans also seemed to calm down: Christian Pulisic left just after the hour mark, presumably to rest a little before the game against Canada, and Ferreira and Weah quickly followed him on the bench.

With three games scheduled in eight days in the current qualifying window, the United States have a chance to take a commanding position to claim one of the region’s three automatic World Cup berths at the start of the final window. three games in March. (It was mathematically possible, though extremely unlikely, that the Americans could have claimed a World Cup spot by next week if a complicated string of results came their way.)

Through eight of 14 qualifiers, the United States sat in second place heading into Thursday’s games, one point behind surprise group leaders Canada, one ahead of Mexico and Panama. Mexico have kept the pace, for now, rallying for a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Kingston.

The United States can take control of the group if they can beat the Canadians — weakened by the absence of Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies — on Sunday. They next face Honduras on Wednesday in St. Paul, Minnesota, hoping to pick up three wins in one week.

“We are in a good position,” Pulisic said earlier this week, “and at the end of this window we could be in a great position.”

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