By Michael Lewis
BALTIMORE -- The stakes have changed and there will no second chances.
For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
When the final whistle blows after the United States and El Salvador tussle in Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal at M&T Bank Stadium, one team will board a plane to Dallas, the other will be making plans to go home.
"We know in the knockout stage every little thing counts, matters," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said at a press conference on Saturday. "Knockout stages you can't make many mistakes. You get punished and the thing is over."
He later added: "It doesn't matter if you have eight wins in a row or five or two or whatever. To win this tournament you've got to win the next three games. We're not looking at any statistics. We know we have a difficult match here tomorrow and we're ready for it. For us, the Gold Cup is only successful if we win. Big hurdle tomorrow."
It's a big hurdle for both teams.
"We understand the importance of this game," El Salvador coach Agustin Castillo said. "It's very important for us to get the result."
According to FIFA records, the U.S. enjoys an advantage in the all-time series between the sides, winning 14 of 19 all-time meetings and losing only once.
But there is one game that is not counted in the record of the full national team results, a 3-3 draw in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, last year that eliminated the host team. El Salvador has several players from that squad and hoped that it will make a difference.
"They know that they can get a good result against the USA," Salvadoran defender Steve Purdy said. "I know it's the pre-Olympic team. They were able to do that. They still have that feeling. It's still fresh. It shows it can happen and it can happen again."
Both teams are bringing hot hands at the forward position into the match. Chris Wondolowski already has scored five goals, a U.S. record for one Gold Cup. Roldofo Zelaya has scored all of El Salvador's three goals.
"Zelaya is a guy who can cause you problems always," said Klinsmann, adding that El Salvador is ”very sharp, is very gifted. It's a team full of talent and they've shown that. They get all of the respect from our end."
Castillo praised U.S. star Landon Donovan, but stressed his opponent was much more than a one-man show.
"We shouldn't focus on a couple of players," he said. "We should think as the team as a whole. They have a great team. We should be worried about 11 players.
The expected high temperatures at kick-off time could also factor into how the encounter plays out.
"It's something that they (the players) need to be prepared mentally," Klinsmann said. “It's about adjustment and just stay positive. It's a lot on your attitude and your willingness to suffer and sacrifice yourself. It’s about sacrificing yourself for the big picture.
“The big picture is winning this tournament and one foot in the door for the [FIFA] Confederations Cup."
The game was declared a sellout on Friday and Salvadorans from nearby Washington, D.C., are expected to attend the match in large numbers.
If the U.S. was intimidated, it wasn't showing it.
"It's a wonderful thing. Having a sold-out stadium tomorrow, a lot of El Salvadorans making noise, making atmosphere, this is what you want to experience," he said. "The players will embrace that and hopefully will show them that playing in the U.S. and still there are lot of American fans there, hopefully making noise as well.”
Sometime on Sunday evening one team definitely will be enjoying the moment with a quarterfinal win.