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U.S. soccer tops El Salvador 2-1 in World Cup tuneup

The United States’ Conor Casey (9) attempts a header off of a first-half corner kick. The U.S. team trailed 1-0 at halftime but rallied to beat El Salvador with a goal in injury time.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

The United States’ Conor Casey (9) attempts a header off of a first-half corner kick. The U.S. team trailed 1-0 at halftime but rallied to beat El Salvador with a goal in injury time.

TAMPA — U.S. men's national team coach Bob Bradley has some things to ponder after Wednesday night's international friendly against El Salvador.

And that's a good thing.

Not only did his team rally for a dramatic 2-1 win, scoring the winner two minutes into stoppage time in front of 20,086 at Raymond James Stadium, the goal scorers, veteran forward Brian Ching and midfielder Sacha Kljestan, made some of Bradley's upcoming decisions tougher.

"We will discuss some things," Bradley said in regard to his roster for the March 3 game against the Netherlands, the last before he names his 23-man roster for this summer's World Cup in South Africa.

That game will feature his foreign-based players, unlike Wednesday's exhibition, which was almost solely players from MLS. So for many of the players on the field, it was, perhaps, a last chance to impress.

Several players did just that.

Although the Americans dominated play, El Salvador took a 1-0 lead when forward Rudis Corrales scored in the 59th minute. It was his team's first shot in 30 minutes.

But the United States had been in this spot to this team in two World Cup qualifiers last year. It rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the final 13 minutes to tie the score in San Salvador on March 28, then it overcame a 1-0 deficit to pull out a 2-1 win on Sept. 5.

This time, it began with Ching, 31, who made the 2006 World Cup team but didn't play. He came on to start the second half (subbing for Conor Casey, who had a strong first half) and tied it on a dazzling header off a cross from defender Heath Pearce in the 75th minute.

"I spent most of January getting physically ready for this season, getting a little bit stronger, hopefully a little bit faster," said Ching, who plays for Houston and is coming back from a minor knee injury. "I felt good out there. I think the two months away from the game really helped rejuvenate me."

Bradley sure liked what he saw.

"Brian has qualities … in terms of putting himself in good positions, holding balls, bringing guys into the game," he said. "He's a player who works hard for the team. He puts himself in good positions. And oftentimes, he makes players around him better because of the honest, dirty work he does. I thought that was clearly the case in the second half."

Then halfway through four minutes of stoppage time, Kljestan, who failed to convert on a pair of shots inside the 18-yard box in the opening half, stripped the ball from defender Marvin Gonzalez and fed Ching. Ching gave it back to Kljestan, who finished the chance and might have helped his long-term possibilities.

"I hope so," said Kljestan, 29, who plays for Chivas. "I feel like in the January and February camps, I tried to work my hardest just to get back on the team and prove to myself, prove to my teammates and prove to the coaching staff that I want to be here and deserve to be here and can be a positive for the team. The game against Honduras (in January) wasn't my best, but I think I played a little bit better."

Bradley stressed how MLS players play and practice with their clubs will be pivotal.

That could help a player such as high-scoring forward Jeff Cunningham, 33, the former Crystal River High and USF standout who came on in the 68th minute but did little in the game.

"I had limited minutes," he said. "But (I have) 13 years of experience, 13 years of putting the ball in the back of the net. So hopefully, (Bradley) can draw from that and know that given the opportunity, I can score internationally also."

Decisions, decisions.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

U.S. 2

El Salvador 1

U.S. soccer tops El Salvador 2-1 in World Cup tuneup 02/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:19am]
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