The United States moved into prime position to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup, rallying from an early deficit to beat El Salvador 2-1 Saturday night on first-half goals by Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
Christian Castillo gave El Salvador a surprising lead in the 32nd minute after a giveaway by Jonathan Bornstein, but Dempsey tied it with a diving header in the 41st and Altidore scored on a leaping header in the second minute of injury time.
Article continues below ...
Landon Donovan set up both goals, the first with a free kick and the second with a long cross.
Tim Howard made a point-blank stop on William Reyes in the 87th to preserve the win, which improved the U.S. to 4-0 at home in the final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The United States (4-2-1) has 13 points with three games left: Wednesday at Trinidad and Tobago, Oct. 10 at Honduras and Oct. 14 against Costa Rica at Washington, D.C. Sixteen or 17 points should be enough to secure the berth.
Costa Rica (12 points), Honduras (10) and Mexico (9) played later Saturday. The top three teams in the six-nation group qualify for next year’s tournament in South Africa, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff against South America’s fifth-place finisher.
“We’ve got three more tough games, but if we continue to get points we’re going to be all right,” said Dempsey, who atoned for an early miss.
It was the second time the U.S. came from behind to win a home qualifier.
Before defeating Honduras 2-1 at Chicago on June 6, the Americans hadn’t won a qualifier in which they trailed since 1985. The United States is 17-0-1 at home in qualifying since a 3-2 loss to Honduras in September 2001 at RFK Stadium.
“The best part was the response when we went down,” coach Bob Bradley said.
“It’s never easy. You feel that pressure for a moment, but there was a real strong response from everybody on the field. That says a lot about what these guys are all about.”
The U.S. team was without defenders Oguchi Onyewu (one-game suspension for yellow cards) and Jay DeMerit (strained groin). In addition, forward Charlie Davies limped off in the 71st minute with what appeared to be a left calf injury.
Castillo, who scored for a two-goal lead against the United States in the 2-2 qualifying tie at San Salvador on March 28, outjumped Jonathan Spector to score the first goal. Bornstein had given the ball away with an overhead clearance attempt that landed at the top of the penalty area.
Donovan played with swine flu in a 2-1 loss at Mexico last month, but was back to speed.
Dempsey, whose attempt went wide on an open shot off a Davies cross in the 28th minute, got behind the defense on Donovan’s free kick and headed past goalkeeper Miguel Montes. That prompted the first loud cheers for the American fans since the game started.
Donovan’s move from the run of play created the second goal. From the flank, he made a 30-yard pass to Altidore, who headed home for his team-high sixth goal in qualifying.
The U.S. fans had been drown out by the blue-clad Salvadoran fans up until Dempsey’s goal. Chants of “U-S-A!” rang through halftime and into the second half.
Altidore, playing for the U.S. for first time since hisa debut for Hull of England’s Premier League, put the ball in the net in the 58th. The goal was disallowed by Honduran referee Jose Pineda, apparently because the 19-year-old forward nudged a defender.
El Salvador, close to eliminated, lost by one goal for the fifth straight qualifier.
“They tried hard, unfortunately we didn’t get enough results,” El Salvador coach Carlos de los Cobos said. “I always say we have to win with goals instead of hopes.”
United States: Tim Howard; Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies (Stuart Holden, 73rd), Landon Donovan, Jonathan Bornstein, Chad Marshall, Jozy Altidore (Francisco Torres, 85th).
El Salvador: Miguel Montes; Marvin Gonzalez, Jose Enriquez, Ramon Flores (Williams Reyes, 64th), Arturo Alvarez (Osael Romero, 51st), Ramon Sanchez, Eliseo Quintanilla (Rudis Corrales, 75th), Rodolfo Zelaya, Manuel Salazar, Deris Umanzor, Christian Castillo.