Soccer America
Wednesday April 1st, 2009

Unlike people in many professions, soccer players seldom sulk or mope after a disappointing game, usually because there's another one right around the corner. Except for those rare occasions when a season or cup run ends in excruciating fashion, players must get on with it.

After scraping out a 2-2 tie in El Salvador on Saturday, despite being outplayed for most of the match and falling behind 2-0, the U.S. players can't wait to rectify their reputations.

"On the one hand, we were pleased to get a point and being able to come back, but obviously we weren't satisfied with the overall way we played," midfielder Michael Bradley said on ussoccer.com. "We're all kind of champing at the bit a little bit to get back on the field and play in a big game in front of our home fans."

LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., hosts the third game of the Hexagonal round Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Galavision) with the Americans on top of the six-team group with four points from a win and tie. Beating Trinidad and Tobago will keep them atop the sextet regardless of other results heading into another double-date in early June: away to Costa Rica, home against Honduras.

Lineup changes are foreseen, with one of the Jonathans, perhaps Bornstein but possibly Spector, replacing Heath Pearce at left back.

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni has looked fit and sharp in training and is another possible change. Keeper Tim Howard, who was suspended for the El Salvador game, will get the start in goal with Brad Guzan reverting to his backup role. Defender Oguchi Onyewu sat out the El Salvador game with a sprained right knee and is reportedly ready to go.

Two players who livened up the team as substitutes, José Francisco Torres and Jozy Altidore, are possible starters, with Altidore the more likely of the two.

T&T's robust, physical style will present different challenges than the sharp, clever Salvadorans. With two points in the first two games, getting at least a point is imperative for the visitors, who are braced to face a squad of Americans in a foul mood, regardless of who plays and where they line up.

"There's a bitter taste in your mouth after a game like that, so I thought it was good we could use [Sunday] and look at some things and take a good look at ourselves," Bradley said.

The U.S. didn't start slowly against El Salvador, but neither did it come out intense. After allowing the Americans a couple of half-chances in the opening quarter-hour, El Salvador struck on a superb counterattack, forcing the Americans to chase the game. Not until scoring twice in the final 13 minutes did the U.S. catch up to silence a crowd that had roared on their heroes for more than an hour.

"We want to make some improvements on the game from the other day," coach Bob Bradley said. "We want to come out with a good level of energy and set the tone right away."

T&T has been strengthened by the return of starting keeper Clayton Ince and holding midfielder Chris Birchall, a standout at the 2006 World Cup who was suspended Saturday for a 1-1 tie against Honduras that Kaleem Hyland rescued with a goal in the 90th minute.

Kenwyne Jones of English Premier League club Sunderland has missed the last two games against the U.S. while recovering from a knee ligament injury suffered last year playing against England, but is available for this one, as is former Columbus Crew striker Stern John. Both Jones and John are fast and strong and can be dangerous if marking and tracking are too lax.

Captain Dennis Lawrence is a veteran of previous U.S. meetings, as is coach Francisco Maturana of Colombia, but legendary attacker Dwight Yorke is suspended. The teams played last October in the CONCACAF semifinal round, and the already-qualified U.S. sent out a young squad that was beaten 2-1 in Port of Spain. In the home leg, the Americans won 3-0.

For the Americans, the game plan is simple: Get Landon Donovan involved early in the attack, play hard and smart from the first kick and keep it going to the final whistle.

"We need to have a better team effort, be more organized in the defensive end and keep our shape, and be more creative in the attacking third," defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "Just all in all, a better group effort should get the job done for us. When you don't have your best game, you want to get out there right away. We're hungry."

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