Winning two games will propel the United States into the region finals of World Cup qualifying.
The Americans are at El Salvador tonight in Group A of the North and Central American and Caribbean region tournament. They play host to Panama on Wednesday night in Washington.
The United States leads its group with five points after a home victory against El Salvador and ties at Jamaica and Panama. Jamaica and Panama trail by one point, El Salvador by two. The top two from the group advance to next year's six-team region finals, with the best three in round-robin play qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The Salvadorans, who lost to the United States 2-0 on Sept.4 in Foxboro, Mass., are somewhat of a mystery this time. Armando Contreras Palma was hired as coach Sept.16 to replace Juan Ramon Paredes, who was fired.
"The games on the road are extremely challenging, and once again, we face a country that has a new coach," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Certainly we anticipate a very different roster from the one we saw in Foxboro. This creates another challenge for us because we'll step on the field knowing very little about our opponent."
What Arena does know is that there will not be many in the stands waving red-white-and-blue flags and singing The Star-Spangled Banner.
Then again, that is what region qualifying road games are about, and the Americans rallied for 1-all ties at Jamaica and Panama with late goals.
Not that they want to do that again.
"We'd like to get off to quicker starts, for sure," U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. "Then we can dictate how the game is played."
The Americans will try to dictate the flow without Claudio Reyna. The captain is out after injuring his quadriceps while playing for Manchester City in the English Premier League.
"We don't have many players with Claudio's qualities," Arena said. "We don't have a whole lot of players like Claudio, and I think that's one of the voids on our team. I think there are a couple of young players that perhaps down the road will be able to step up and assume that role, but at the time I think we're a little bit limited in that regard."
Another mainstay, midfielder Chris Armas, also is out after arthroscopic knee surgery. Brian Ching, who has provided an offensive spark up front, is bothered by a quadriceps injury.
Three players coming off injuries are on the squad: defenders Gregg Berhalter (broken facial bones) and Tony Sanneh (ankle) and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni (quadriceps).
Either Kasey Keller or Tim Howard, goalkeepers in England, are likely to start tonight.
Six hundred regular and special police officers will be at the stadium, Salvadoran police official Vladimir Caceres said.
"Before the event we will guarantee the personal security through specialized units in charge of guarding important personalities," he said. "We will guarantee that they suffer no inconvenience while in the country."
For Arena and most of his team, playing in San Salvador will be something new.
"I've never been there before. It's going to be difficult conditions," Arena said. "One would expect with the U.S. coming to town that it's going to be a capacity crowd. So it's going to be a real challenge in that environment."