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2023 Nations League - USA 1-0 El Salvador: a hard earned win for the Stars and Stripes

It was dominant but it wasn’t easy for the USA against Hugo Perez’s well organized El Salvador side

El Salvador v United States: Group D - CONCACAF Nations League Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

The USA took on El Salvador with a trip to the Nations League Finals at stake. After making quick work of Grenada at the end of last week, the Stars and Stripes faced a cagy opponent in El Salvador. Los Cuscatlecos held the USA to a 0-0 draw at home and lost just 1-0 in January of 2022 in Columbus in World Cup qualifying. They would once again prove to be a difficult matchup for the USA as a frustrating first half was followed by a somewhat more open second 45 as Ricardo Pepi came off the bench to give the Stars and Stripes a solid but hard fought 1-0 victory.

Anthony Hudson ran out his now preferred 4-2-3-1 with Daryl Dike up top and an MLS player in the lineup for the first time since January of 2023.

For his part, Hugo Perez sent out Alex Roldan, Erik Zavaleta, and Bryan Gil out to take on the USA with no fewer than two more Gils at his disposal on the bench.

GIFS OF ...not a whole lot of gifs in this one actually, certainly not eight goals

Through 34 minutes the USA did not score four goals, in fact the team looked disjointed and after 45 minutes had barely troubled the El Salvador keeper. Attempts to work possession in the attacking third usually saw the ball turned over before an opportunity could be created. In his first start, Alex Zendejas was not on the same page as his teammates, though Gio Reyna did get more touches and was more effective than he was against Grenada.

By the end of the half the USA had managed 54% of the possession but had just five shots and one on target. The good news was that El Salvador was worse at taking their chances on the counter and had just one shot in the half. Still, what seemed like a promising start to the ANTHONY HUDSON ERA following the BIGGEST AWAY WIN IN USMNT HISTORY was just a bit premature. Once again, the USA had spent a frustrating half against a team from Central America that was doing more than enough to hold the Stars and Stripes at bay.

I had a few thoughts for the second half after what was an underwhelming display in the first 45.

And then 45 seconds into the second half I could have deleted that because Gio Reyna ran past everyone in an El Salvador shirt and fired a shot off of the post.

The following minutes saw El Salvador loosen up a bit and try to open up the game by moving the ball forward in possession. As a result, the Americans were able to push into the opposing attacking area and at least look as if they would trouble Mario Gonzalez.

At the hour mark Brayan Gil would almost catch Matt Turner off his line, but his effort wasn’t on frame. At the same time, Anthony Hudson decided to make some changes with Brenden Aaronson coming in for Zendejas and Dike making way for Ricardo Pepi.

The sub would pay off because Ricardo Pepi got a ball he could run onto and beat Gonzalez on a one v one to make it 1-0 a few minutes after coming on.

El Salvador was not overcome with grief about giving up the score and minutes later pushed forward creating a moment of concern for the USA that saw Gil put an overhead kick toward goal. His chance went wide though and the USA kept its 1-0 lead.

In the 71st minute Musah would come off for Luca de la Torre and would be followed by Reyna making way for Taylor Booth.

In the 85th minute, Pepi alsmost found an unlikely second goal as a cross sailed in from the right that looked to be out of the striker’s reach. El Tren reached out a toe and managed to tap the ball up for a volley, but when he didn’t make solid contact for his shot and it deflected off of a defender for a corner.

El Salvador v United States: Group D - CONCACAF Nations League Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

Aside from McKennie coming off for Johnny in the 91st minute, there wasn’t much more to note in the match. In the end the single goal from Ricardo Pepi was enough to take the win at home against El Salvador. While the score may have been underwhelming, El Salvador proved themselves once again to be a solid team capable of at the very least putting up an effort worthy of being a tricky fixture.