But the plan from the start was to evaluate fringe players' candidacies for plane tickets to Russian Federation, then shuttle in a veteran corps to hopefully secure three wins and championship, restoring the U.S.to its deposed place atop CONCACAF.
US forward Jozy Altidore doesn't necessarily mind being bitten and having his nipple twisted, but he would prefer if El Salvador defender Henry Romero wasn't the one doing the biting and twisting.
A towering header from Pachuca centre-back Gonzalez gave hosts US the lead with four minutes of regulation time remaining in the first half. Referee Drew Fischer managed to miss all of the abovementioned incidents.
He clutched his shoulder before saying after the game: 'I was a bit shocked'.
About the only thing that was lacking from the match was a red card or two.
"My girl is mad at me". "She's mad at me". She's mad at me.
The incidents made for a popular postgame topic among US players, and Altidore himself delivered the grandest response of them all. "Games shouldn't look like that".
"Still needs a little more experience at this level, but he fits in well with the team and that's a position we need help", said USA head coach Bruce Arena of Lichaj. "Our timing wasn't good, we didn't deal well with the physicality".
The Americans have won the biannual regional championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean five times since 1991, with their most recent title in 2013.
The right midfielder took the first USA shot, deflected for a corner in the third minute, and worked hard to make himself available. "It was just a sloppy game overall". Lichaj left his pass back to Howard short, and Dennis Pineda raced in on goal, but Howard was off his line quickly with a strong hand to save his defender's blushes. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who both made their tournament debuts, each chipped in with an assist. O.K., they got a lot weird. "We gave them hospital balls the whole first half". One of the more notable ones came in the 52nd minute when Lichaj-perhaps due to the lack of experience at the global level that Arena mentioned-allowed a route-one ball to bounce by him. "It just has to be better, cleaner all around".
United States team-mate Tim Howard has seen the amusing side however. Arena fared better with his substitutions.
And El Salvador were left shell-shocked in first-half stoppage time when Lichaj - in an advanced position on the edge of the area - was played through following a stunning turn by Dempsey and coolly slotted the ball through the legs of Carrillo. "Once he got at them a little bit more, he got risky and helped our team in the attack".
"We're happy to move on and we're focused on [semi-final opponents] Costa Rica". The Ticos have been beset a bit by injuries and four players, including striker Joel Campbell and midfielder Cristian Gamboa, have been replaced on the roster. But as the tournament's knockout stages dawn in Philadelphia, his players were more bullish in decreeing the match with El Salvador Wednesday night at Lincoln Financial Field (9 p.m., FS1) as one where they have business to take care of.
Dempsey may be slowing down, and he certainly doesn't play any defense or apply pressure to ball handlers, but holy hell does he still pop up with game-changing moments of magic.
In the past, the world of worldwide soccer has seen players go above and beyond the call of duty, as well as general morality, in hopes of securing a win for their teams.