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  • 10:10 PM ET  09.05

SANDY, Utah -- Three quick thoughts after the U.S.'s 2-1 win over El Salvador in World Cup qualifying:

* There's rarely such a thing as an easy three points for Team USA. In the end, the Yanks got what they needed: three important points on the road to South Africa. Still, nobody expected that lowly El Salvador would take a 1-0 lead, as it did after a horrific clearance by Jonathan Bornstein into his own box in the 32nd minute. The gaffe brought back memories of Carlos Bocanegra's ill-fated clearance in the '06 World Cup against Ghana. But unlike in that game, this U.S. team came roaring back to score two goals in the final five minutes of the first half. You never want to go down at home, as the U.S. also did in its last home qually against Honduras, but to come from behind and win shows a mettle that's certainly worth something.

* Man of the Match: Landon Donovan. The U.S.'s all-time leading scorer didn't find the net against El Salvador, but he did just about everything else on the field, attacking the Salvadoran defense relentlessly and serving two exquisite balls to Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore for the U.S. goals. More and more, Donovan seems to have a free role to roam the field and attack, much like Cuauhtémoc Blanco for Mexico or Kaká for Brazil. It strikes me as the best way to use Donovan's abilities to run at defenders and find openings, instead of asking him to play up top and let the game come to him.

* Tim Howard came up huge late. The U.S. shouldn't have been in a position to give up a late equalizer, but Howard (who wasn't active for much of the night) had to make a point-blank save on William Reyes in the 87th minute to preserve the victory. Give Los Cuscatlecos credit for playing a good game and attacking more than expected, but make sure to give Howard credit for dealing with a makeshift U.S. back line that has had better nights. At halftime, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati revealed that Mexican-American left back Edgar Castillo received clearance from FIFA yesterday to play for the United States. As of now, Castillo appears to be the U.S.'s best option at left back.

What did you think of the U.S. performance? Post your thoughts below and check back after postgame interviews for Jonah Freedman's piece on SI.com. I'm off to write a mag article...

Grant Wahl's New York Times best-seller, The Beckham Experiment, is in bookstores everywhere. You can order it here. You can also find him on Twitter.

 

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