Labored win on Labor Day weekend. ALSO: headline pun writer position available

"Candidly, if we can't beat El Salvador at home, we don't deserve to go to the World Cup." - Landon, more or less, I'm working from memory

YAY! We deserve to go to the World Cup! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

I had the perfect title in case of a loss - "SLC Punked." Or did I use that last year for the Red Bulls playoff game?

Let's stipulate that it was actually a 3-1 win for the Beautiful. Altidore's second goal should have counted - just because John Harkes says so doesn't mean it's not true.

But apart from the goals, Altidore was nowhere near the factor he should have been. That's the nice thing about being a forward - do nothing until you finally do something, and you're the hero. This is why every time a defender throws a penny in a well, he wishes a forward dies in his sleep.

The obvious explanation is "Jozy needs playing time," in which case the problem solves itself. It better, because if *I'm* sitting there thinking "Hm, maybe Bob should put in Brian Ching," then something's going wrong up top.

Loved Dempsey and Donovan. Don't let this mere sentence fragment mislead you - these guys are a joy to watch when they're clicking. But because they're so damn good, we shouldn't ever be at risk at home like that.

(Obligatory salute to El Salvador. I hope they win out and sneak a qualifying spot, even if it's at our expense - because, like Landon said, if that happens, we have it coming. But courage and determination is no substitute for talent, and underdogs can't make stupid shots and blow defensive assignments like that.)

Didn't mind Feilhaber and Bradley as much as I should have, but maybe I was subconsciously comparing them to our backline. Or maybe I'm just thinking that Germany Jones is gonna send one of these guys to the bench anyway. But we didn't nearly blow this game in the midfield, if only because neither team played very much there.

Boy, how important is Gooch for this team? Important enough that maybe our captain should learn how to organize a back line, I guess. El Salvador played a game riddled with mistakes, had no shooting worth speaking of - and I was still petrified they would tie it up at the end. They probably should feel themselves unfortunate that they didn't. We were asking to drop points out there, just begging to.

Still, all's well that ends well, right?

Where to from here? Well, Gooch is back, and hopefully Davies didn't hurt himself too badly. Trinidad looked sick and slow against Honduras, the US really should be able to finish them off comprehensively.

But then, they should never have fallen behind Costa Rica. At some point you can put these kinds of things on individual players - yeah, no big emergency on getting your shots and visa together, Jonathan. But at some point, Bob is going to have to find a second eleven he can really depend on.

I think we've got a starting eleven that can compete with nearly anyone, which is, like, cool. (If you don't agree, take it up with Spain.) But the dropoff from starter to sub is just way too dizzying, and you can't go far in the World Cup with only a few guys.

Now, maybe the guy who can step into the defense simply doesn't exist, in which case it's not Bradley's fault, it's the talent pool. Next summer, the cards and injuries pile up a little, Bob tosses in Hejduk and enjoys the carnage - Matt Busby couldn't do any better in that case.

And sure, it's better to rule out guys like Kljestan and Bornstein and whoever this summer rather than wish we had next summer. But someone's eventually gonna have to go in there, and I dunno if I feel that good if it's either Omar Gonzalez or Eddie Pope. (Where's McBride on your forward depth chart right now? Yeah, see? Shouldn't even be a single digit number.)

There might be one other reason we're not looking as sharp as we could. We might be trying to finish fourth.

Think about it. A big, big game, against Argentina. Coached by someone who otherwise wouldn't be allowed into the country, and I for one see the State Department's point. And then the confidence boost of beating Argentina, in Argentina, to qualify for the World Cup. Can you imagine what that would mean for the program?

This assumes that Maradona still has a job as I write this, let alone if Argentina finishes fifth. This also assumes that someone like Landon Donovan doesn't get a red card in the last game of the Hex. But man, talk about a game that would get worldwide attention.

But, apparently Costa Rica is willing to go the extra mile to get that game. We only were willing to look pretty bad at home. Costa Rica had the courage and fortitude to truly stink. Yet another wasted opportunity by the USSF, if you ask me.

Of course, only a few thousand in Utah even noticed this game happened, thanks to the local seminary college beating Oklahoma that night. I think the USSF thought the Sooners would demolish BYU, and the Utah papers would cover the Nats out of self-defense, but no such luck.