"Hi! I'm Jose Pineda, and I'll Be Your Referee This Evening!"

Pardon me, but what the hell was that?

You knew we were going to have issues with Sr. Pineda when he started the game acting for all the world like Chad Marshall had said something about his mother. The guy couldn't adjust his jock without hearing the whistle.

And apparently jumping for a header while an opponent with his back to the ball jumps on you like a drunk 16 year old on a prom date is against the rules. Who knew?

But of course that was only the opening act of an evening of low comedy, with more flops than a Chevy Chase film festival, a whistle every 15 seconds and so many missed opportunities that you began to wonder if Jack Warner had some kind of remote control device on the ball.

And certainly someone needs to tell El Salvador that if they like the US jerseys so much that they simply cannot bear to let go of them once in a while that Sunil Gulati would be glad to ship them a box or two.

Now before you wind up for the big "Don't blame the referee, Archer you big (fill in the blank)" comment, no, it was not his fault that the US couldn't find the net with a map and one of those "Grand Opening Today!" searchlights. Even with one of the most puzzling, embarrassing and incompetent displays of soccer officiating we've seen in quite a while the US still should have run away with this match.

The real question is whether the fact that they didn't is cause for concern; whether what we saw from the USA is the best they can do, in which case the trip to South Africa will be strictly ceremonial.

And of course, like the brave, intrepid and insightful observer that I am, I haven't got the first clue.

There is of course another point of view making the rounds this morning, the "What the hell are you bellyaching about, fer crissakes we WON in case you didn't notice" school of thought. And in truth, World Cup qualifiers are seldom pretty. Rather, they're almost uniformly tests of stamina and grit and attitude.

Which is why a side as pedestrian as El Salvador can, by being either "feisty" or "dirty" depending on which side of the CONCACAF divide you occupy, hang with a clearly superior outfit like the team Bradley put out there last night.

Anyway, it's not like there weren't some good things going on out there: the US, which came out of the tunnel firing, obviously planned on taking the game to the El Sals with a full-court press which featured if not a disdain for the opponent's offensive capabilities then certainly a lack or respect for it.

Bornstein on the left and Spector on the right were both channeling Frankie Hejduk all night, with Spector in particular launching cross after cross as Bradley seemingly figured that Bocanegra and Marshall could hold the fort long enough for help to arrive if need be.

And he was right. The goal the US gave up was as much a lack of continuity or cohesiveness or familiarity or communication or whatever you want to call it as anything else. And while I love Timmy Howard, that's a ball he gets 99 times out of 100 and he clearly knew it, if for no other reason than the fact that Howard, a notorious screamer, didn't immediately hop up and start reading anyone their pedigree.

What was troublesome was that the US, with a lead and with better talent in the midfield, seemed incapable of possessing the ball, instead allowing the game to become a track meet for the last 20 or so minutes, something they can't ever do. Not because they're not fast enough but because that end-to-end kind of stuff is how weaker teams get back into matches.

For his part, Landon Donovan needs to find a gear other than "pants on fire". One of the great things about Reyna was that he could take air out of the game, slow it down to a crawl, dictate the pace and force you to chase the game.

But it was an odd kind of a night: Landon taking control of the offense with two delicious assists and then failing to change tactics when it was called for. Clint Dempsey missing, what was it, 35? 40? shots before coming up with a wonderful equalizer followed by a gorgeous ball to Altidore for the third goal.

Except of course for the odd, inexplicable call back. Reportedly Altidore asked Pineda after the game what the whistle was for. Pineda didn't have an answer. Likely because, frankly, there isn't one. You'd say it was a bad call but since he's not sharing with us exactly what it was for we obviously can't argue.

As for everybody else, well, Feilhaber looked very shaky, Michael Bradley has had better games, I want to have Charlie Davies' children and the patchwork central defense - despite what some people are saying - did just fine. For reference, you might want to glance at the score.

In the end, I think we file this one away as a curiosity. The best thing to take away, I think, is that good teams find a way to beat weaker teams when they have to. The worrisome thing is that the US has got to stop playing down to their opponent.

Which shortcoming, coincidentally, they'll have a chance to correct next week against T&T.