SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The United States showed promise but no ability to finish in its pandemic-delayed World Cup qualifying opener, drawing 0-0 at El Salvador on Thursday night in the type of Central American stadium that repeatedly has stymied the Americans.
Both teams created few chances before a boisterious yet polite sellout crowd of about 30,000 that started filling Monumental Estadio Cuscatlán, Central America’s largest, about 8 1/2 hours before kickoff.
“We got to get better, we got to get more connected as a team and finish our chances,” U.S. coach Greg Berhalter said.
Trying to rebound from its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. remained winless in sixth straight road qualifiers dating to 2016 (two losses, four draws).
“We can make a lot of excuses about the game, but at the end of the day there’s some positives to take away,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “We got a clean sheet. We didn’t give up a goal. We’ll take the point and we’ve got to focus on the next game.”
Qualifying was delayed a year by the pandemic, and a compacted schedule has teams in the final round of North and Central America and the Caribbean playing 14 matches in seven months.
“There was too much individual play, not enough switching the field,” Berhalter said. “Looking at everything, we’ll take it and move on.”
The U.S. plays next on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, against Canada, which opened with a 1-1 draw against visiting Honduras, then is at Honduras on Sept. 8.
Three of the eight nations in regional finals qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar and fourth place advances to a playoff. But there rarely are easy games for the U.S. in Central America.
Riot police with helmets and shields were in front of the stands. Fans, most wearing blue home jerseys, were separated from the field by yellow chain-link fencing. Many held up the lights on their mobile phones, as if it were a rock concert.
Fireworks started during El Salvador’s national anthem and kept exploding for the first five minutes.
“We didn’t silence the fireworks, but we silenced the crowd,” Berhalter said.
Miles Robinson had the best chance in the first half, putting an open header over the crossbar in the ninth minute from Gio Reyna’s free kick.
Eriq Zavaleta’s header from Marvin Monterroza’s corner kick was stopped by diving U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner in the 57th. Weston McKennie couldn’t get his head solidly on Reyna’s cross in the 73rd, then crossed to Kellyn Acosta for a header that was punched away by diving Mario González in the 76th.
McKennie and DeAndre Yedlin were given yellow cards for fouls in the second half. A second yellow in another game would cause a one-game suspension.
It had been 1,424 days since the 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances. Yedlin was the only holdover in the U.S. lineup from that night.
Coaching his first qualifier, Berhalter didn’t have star attacker Christian Pulisic (regaining fitness after testing positive for COVID-19) and goalkeeper Zack Steffen (back spasms), who remained in Nashville. Turner, who made his international debut in January, was in goal.
The U.S. lineup averaged 23 years, 282 days, the fourth-youngest in a qualifier in the modern era. It included nine players making their qualifying debuts, all but Yedlin and central defender Tim Ream, who was on the bench in Couva.
They were joined by Robinson in central defense, left back Sergiño Dest, Adams, McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Reyna and Konrad de La Fuente in midfield, and Josh Sargent heading the attack.
El Salvador was led by coach Hugo Pérez, who had 73 appearances for the U.S. from 1984-94 and scored in a 1-0 qualifying win over El Salvador in 1989. He recruited nephew Joshua Pérez, a teammate of Pulisic and Adams at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup, who had three goals in the first two rounds of qualifying.
Also on El Salvador is Álex Roldan, a brother and Seattle Sounders teammate of U.S. midfielder Cristian Roldan. Sitting in the stands, their mother wore an El Salvador jersey and their father a U.S.A. shirt.
The U.S. is ranked 10th, its highest since 2006, after winning the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup, and El Salvador is 64th. Los Cuscatlecos have reached just two World Cups, in 1970 and 1982, and the U.S. has 18 wins, six draws and one loss in the matchup, which includes an 18-game unbeaten streak (15 victories). The U.S. had won the most recent meeting 6-0 in an exhibition in December.
Notes: In other games, Mexico beat visiting Jamaica 2-1 on Henry Martin’s 89th minute goal. Alexis Vega scored for El Tri in the 50th, and Shamar Nicholson tied it in the 65th. Canada came from behind in Toronto on a 66th-minute goal by Cyle Larin. Alexander López put the visitors ahead with a penalty kick in the 40th minute after Tajon Buchanan fouled Andy Najar. Panama was held to a 0-0 draw by visiting Costa Rica. … CBS broadcast its initial U.S. qualifier and had its commentators call the game from a New York studio rather than on site, though it did have a sideline reporter in the stadium.