EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The frustration Tim Howard saw in the faces of Julio Cruz, Gabriel Heinze and the rest of the world's top-ranked national team was enough to convince the goalkeeper that the United States is ready for World Cup qualifying.
Howard had four spectacular point-blank saves on Cruz, Landon Donovan made his 100th international appearance and the United States tied Argentina 0-0 on Sunday night, finishing a brutal three-game stretch of exhibition games against top 10 opponents.
"Tonight it was about standing up for ourselves, believing we could get a result," Howard said. "We stood up to the challenge. It wasn't always pretty at times."
Still, the U.S. team failed to score a goal for the third straight game, following a 2-0 loss at England on May 28 and 1-0 defeat at Spain on Wednesday. The Americans had not been blanked in three straight games since 1998 and early 1999 against Yugoslavia, Australia and Bolivia.
Next up is their first qualifier for the 2010 World Cup, on Sunday against Barbados in Carson, Calif.
"We played to a high level tonight. We need to do that starting with Barbados," Howard said. "I feel confident we'll get the job done. Tonight we made ourselves accountable. We did not back down. We stuck a foot in at every challenge and that's what we are going to need to go forward."
The match, which ended in driving rain and lightning, drew 78,682, the fourth-largest crowd to watch a soccer game at Giants Stadium and the ninth-biggest to see the U.S. national team at home.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley refused to equate the tie with a win.
"It would have been a win if one of our shots went in," he quipped. "But do we feel good about the effort and playing at that level, yes we do."
Both teams ended short-handed. The United States lost Pablo Mastroeni to a second yellow card in the 71st minute and Argentine captain Javier Mascherano got two yellow cards in the 86th for a studs-up tackle on Donovan, the U.S. captain.
Donovan became the fourth-youngest player in the world to make 100 international appearances at 26 years, 3 months, 4 days. According to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the only younger players with 100 were South Korea's Cha Bum-Kun, who was 24 when he reached the milestone in 1977, and Saudi Arabia's Sami Al-Jaber and Mohammed Al-Deayea, who were each 25 in 1998.
"It's nice to get it, get the weight off my shoulders," said Donovan, who missed the previous two matches with a groin injury. "It's all special, the game, the big crowd, it's Argentina."
Argentina has qualifiers at home against Ecuador on Sunday and at Brazil on June 18. While the Albiceleste had many more quality chances, the United States came within inches of scoring twice.
Clint Dempsey had a shot deflect off an Argentine player in the first half and just go wide of the left post. Oguchi Onyewu put a header off the crossbar in the opening minutes of the second half off a corner kick.
Howard put on a show in the first half, stopping Cruz four times from close, including three on breakaways.
The goalkeeper made a sliding leg save on Cruz in the fifth minute and then got to his feet quickly to punch away the rebound attempt. Howard made another sliding stop in the 28th minute after Lionel Messi made a great pass into space to send Cruz in alone.
Howard denied Cruz again during the first-half stoppage time with a sliding arm save that had the young Argentine forward throwing his hands up in frustration while looking skyward to ask what had he done wrong.
"He gave me a few glancing looks of disgust, and my buddy, Gabriel Heinze did the same thing at halftime. I kind of saw it," Howard said with a laugh.
Howard had seven saves in the half, and he also was a little lucky. Heinze sent a header over the crossbar on a set piece by Messi.
"He saved us," Donovan said of Howard. "He kept us in the game. You hope that in certain moments in a game when things aren't going well, and it breaks down your goalie can make a few saves. He went above and beyond. We can't rely on that all the time. But you hope that in certain moments he can make that save."
Heinze also had a leg on the United States' best chance in the opening half. Dempsey took a shot from just outside the penalty area that hit off Heinze's leg and went just wide of the left post.
Notes: Eddie Johnson came off in the 74th minute after appearing to hurt an ankle in a collision with Argentina goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. U.S. team spokesman Michael Kammarman said after the match that Johnson had no medical issues.