CHICAGO (Oct. 6, 2004) – Of the 15 World Cup Qualifying matches the U.S. Men's National Team has played in Central America since 1965, the team has won only three of them, with all three of those victories coming in Honduras. That means that heading into El Salvador for Saturday's game (9 p.m. ET, live on pay-per-view), the U.S. is a whopping 0-for-11 in earning three points in World Cup qualifying games in Central America not played in Honduras. Of those 15 overall games in Central America, the U.S. has lost five times and tied seven, demonstrating just how difficult it is to qualify for the World Cup against countries that take home-field advantage to the next level.
In the team's last match in Central America on Sept. 8, the U.S. was fortunate to get a point after a 1-1 draw against Panama, provided by second half substitute Cobi Jones who was able to knock home the equalizer in injury time.
“If you take the two teams on paper, you should probably say that we should have an easier time than we've ended up having,” midfielder Eddie Lewis told the Boston Herald before the USA's first World Cup qualifying match against El Salvador at Foxboro on Sept. 4. “But the circumstances, what you are trying to qualify for and the environment in which the game is played, all play a major role and make it very, very difficult sometimes to even get a draw.”
With the effect of travel and the impact of fan support in mind, players were well aware of the importance of getting three points at home on Saturday, Sept. 4, as they defeated El Salvador 2-0 at Gillette Stadium.
Home games are crucial for every team attempting to qualify for the World Cup. Of the 12-7-9 record against Central American teams that the U.S. has compiled, nine of those wins came at home, while five of the losses and seven of the ties came on the road. The USA has lost only twice on home soil against Central American foes in qualifying: once to Costa Rica, 1-0 in 1985, eliminating the U.S. from the 1986 World Cup and, most recently, the 3-2 loss to Honduras in Washington, D.C. in 2001 that almost ended the team’s hopes to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
“An important part of qualifying is getting as many points as you can at home because the road is unknown,” said U.S. manager Bruce Arena. “I think if you explore every team that’s advanced in group stages and has qualified for World Cups, it shows that they’re successful at home and they find ways to steal points on the road. So, certainly, that’s what we need to do is be successful at home.”
Stealing points often means tying because not only does the U.S. team get one point, it, essentially, takes away two points that the home team was counting on. By drawing eight times in Central America, the U.S. kept its opponents to eight points out of a possible 24.
The only country the United States has defeated on its home turf is Honduras. In 1989, the U.S. defeated the Salvadorian National Team 1-0 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, while El Salvador was engaged in a civil war. Costa Rica and Guatemala have never lost to the United States at home, although Guatemala has never won, either.