Antonee Robinson broke through a freeze in the air and the American attack, scoring a big goal in the 52nd minute that took the Americans 1-0 over El Salvador on Thursday night and kept them on track for a return to the World Cup.
The narrow win on a night of 29F that equaled the record-low temperature for a US home qualifier lifted the US to 18 points with five games to go.
The US has two more cold matchups in the coming week and could be on the brink of a berth with wins on Sunday against Canada in Hamilton, Ontario, and Wednesday against Honduras in St Paul, Minnesota. The last three qualifiers are in March.
Canada remained on top with 19 points after their 2-0 win over Honduras on Thursday night, Mexico has 17 points after beating Jamaica 2-1 and Panama has 14, followed by Costa Rica with nine. El Salvador is left with six and has virtually no chance of reaching this year’s tournament in Qatar.
The top three nations qualify and the team in fourth place advances to a play-off against the champions of Oceania, likely New Zealand. Winning home games is critical, and the Americans have won four out of five games on American soil, only stumbling in a draw against Canada in September.
Robinson scored after Weston McKennie played a long ball down the right flank to Tim Weah, who bounced the ball three times as he ran past Roberto Domínguez and Eduardo Vigil.
Goalkeeper Mario González made a sliding block and the ball bounced back to Jesús Ferreira. He headed the ball over the goal mouth and Christian Pulisic bounced it past him to Robinson, who entered him from eight yards with his left foot for his second international goal. Robinson did a front somersault and a back flip to celebrate, adding to the backflip he performed after scoring the equalizing goal in the 4-1 win over Honduras in September.
Matt Turner took over the goal from Zack Steffen, who remained in England due to a bad back and did not have to make a save. Turner played after reports that he will move from New England to Arsenal next summer.
The American Football Federation had scheduled the game in a cold climate to minimize travel and to cool El Salvador, who was going to a sports store to buy extra winter gear.
The Americans’ 15th home win over El Salvador since 1989 didn’t come easy. They defeated El Salvador 8-3 in the first half, but didn’t put anyone on target. But the offense followed its pattern: The US scored 11 of 13 goals in the second half.
González jumped three minutes after Robinson’s goal to parry Yunus Musah’s goal. He also stopped a 12-yard shot from Robinson in the 65th.
El Gráfico, a Salvadoran sports newspaper, headlined the contest “En una heelera”. Translation: “In a freezer”. Flurries of snow fell during the warm-ups and the temperature was the same as before the “Guerra Fria” win over Mexico at the old Columbus Crew Stadium in February 2001 and the Snow Clasico win over Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colorado, in March 2013. .
American players had electrically heated cushions on the couch and refreshments of chicken stock and cider. The temperature in the locker room was set unusually low to acclimatize the team.
Defenders Walker Zimmerman and Chris Richards were the only starters from both teams to wear short sleeves.
After about 12 minutes, Enrico Hernández went from El Salvador to the bank and took off his thermal underwear.
Pulisic, McKennie and Tyler Adams started together for the second time, the first since a March 2019 exhibition against Ecuador. Ferreira was a surprise choice at striker over Ricardo Pepi, who has been goalless for club and country since Oct. 7.
Ferreira was high with a 10 yards oblique shot with his left foot in the 16th minute. The USA’s best chance of the first half came three minutes later, when Adams, Musah, Sergiño Dest and Weah put together a quick charge that left Ferreira open for González, but misfired over the bar with his right foot.