The United States Men’s National Team starts the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying against El Salvador at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador. Gregg Berhalter is looking to get off on the right foot, and three away points would be a strong step in the right direction. Easy opponents are rare at this stage of the competition, with the upcoming three-match slate presenting a set of varied challenges.
El Salvador is led by former U.S. senior international Hugo Pérez, who earned 73 caps with the program from 1984 through 1994 and coached multiple youth sides. He was promoted to senior team manager in April after a stint in charge of the Olympic squad. The 57-year-old has compiled a 6-3-1 record but is yet to land a signature victory.
This is the 25th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding an 18-1-5 advantage. El Salvador is looking to reach the World Cup for a third time after previously competing in 1970 and 1982. La Selecta is enjoying a decent run of form, rolling through previous rounds of qualifying undefeated and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2021 Gold Cup. A recent friendly against Costa Rica ended in a scoreless draw.
“People want to go to the World Cup, I want to go to the World Cup, [and] the players want to go to the World Cup,” Pérez said recently. “But we have 40 years of not going to a World Cup, so let’s ask ourselves why. And let’s start looking for solutions. But that we are going to fight it until the last, in this octagonal, we are going to fight it.”
| Esta es la lista de convocados del profesor Hugo Pérez para las eliminatorias mundialistas. Nos convertimos en un solo sentir y todos a apoyar a nuestros jugadores.— La Selecta (@LaSelecta_SLV) August 26, 2021
¡Unidos por un solo objetivo!#ElSalvador | #SelectaMayor | #TodosJuntos | #ArribaConLaSelección pic.twitter.com/sWQIbYW5Sw
Pérez named a 27-player squad for the upcoming fixtures, including 17 call-ups from the El Salvador Primera División. Several members are former U.S. internationals or dual nationals, with the program embarking on a fierce recruitment campaign. Certain experienced veterans – such as Jaime Alas, Gerson Mayén, Nelson Bonilla, David Rugamas, and Andrés Flores – were excluded, replaced by nine newcomers with one or zero caps.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Mario González (Alianza), Kevin Carabantes (FAS), Yonatan Guardado (Once Deportivo)
DEFENDERS (8): Bryan Tamacas (Alianza), Eriq Zavaleta (Toronto FC), Roberto Domínguez (Chalatenango), Ronald Gómez (Aguila), Miguel Lemus (Chalatenango), Alexander Larín (Comunicaciones), Eduardo Vigil (Firpo), Lizandro Claros (Aguila)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alex Roldán (Seattle Sounders), Narciso Orellana (Alianza), Marvin Monterroza (Alianza), Christian Martinez Mena (A.D. San Carlos), Darwin Cerén (Houston Dynamo), Melvin Cartagena (Once Deportivo), Enrico Hernández (FC Eindhoven), Harold Osorio (Alianza), Amando Moreno (New Mexico United)
FORWARDS (7): Jairo Henríquez (Chalatenango), Kevin Reyes (FAS), Erick Rivera (Santa Tecla), Styven Vásquez (Aguila), Joshua Pérez (Miami FC), Walmer Martinez (Hartford Athletic), Joaquín Rivas (FC Tulsa)
Pérez primarily uses a 4-3-3 formation. He has a fairly established starting lineup, sticking with the same players in most matches. El Salvador plays directly and looks to build through the wings, rarely hesitating or holding the ball too long in the final third. Most chances are created through crosses or quick combination play. While fairly susceptible to counter-attacks, the defenders and midfielders will pack the box and block many shots from reaching the goal.
The program is attempting to get younger, appearing to move on from veterans Benji Villalobos and Henry Hernández. Having only debuted in June, Mario González has established himself as the number one. The 24-year-old Alianza goalkeeper is an acrobatic shot-stopper who rarely gets beaten on anything within reach, but he tends to stay glued to his lines on crosses and breakaways.
Ronald Gómez Rodriguez and Eriq Zavaleta have been the primary center back pairing under Pérez. The former plays for C.D. Águila in the domestic Primera División. The latter, a 29-year-old former U.S. youth international, is one of the more accurate passing defenders in MLS. Roberto Domínguez is highly experienced with 41 caps at the age of 24 and could find his way into the lineup.
Left back Alexander Larín has made 61 appearances with La Selecta since debuting in 2012. He will push into the final third and frequently tests the goalkeeper from distance, often serving as the designated set piece specialist. Despite potential issues involving alleged “acts of indiscipline,” the other side of the field should feature Bryan Tamacas of Alianza FC. The 26-year-old is an extra attacker, equally comfortable crossing and cutting inside to drive at defenders.
The El Salvador midfield trio is perhaps the strongest part of the formation. Narciso Orellana has been the first choice at the holding position, starting most of the matches at the Gold Cup. He should partner with Darwin Cerén, who is often responsible for jump-starting the attack. The 31-year-old likes to spin and shield while waiting to play the right pass. Alianza’s Marvin Monterroza occupies a more advanced role, frequently looking to play one-twos with teammates. A newcomer to the program, Alex Roldán, could possibly slot into the lineup centrally or at fullback. The Seattle Sounder pressures opponents and gets his fair share of assists.
El Salvador has picked up the scoring recently, with the front-line benefitting from the addition of former U.S. youth international Josh Pérez. The coach’s nephew is a hard worker on defense and looks to receive the ball at the top corner of the box, regularly choosing to cut toward the endline and force a shot from a narrow angle. Jairo Henríquez has emerged as a recent favorite, featuring in the majority of recent matches. Despite playing as a winger, he has a tendency to check back and drift centrally. FC Tulsa attacker Joaquín Rivas is a versatile asset, lining up at striker-cum-false-nine for La Selecta. Standing 5’8”, his skillset is more focused on movement and finding the right space in which to receive a pass.
El Salvador takes one back!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 25, 2021
Joaquin Rivas gives life to La Selecta pic.twitter.com/hAY0CPgt27
El Salvador is on the rise but probably not quite at the level of challenging for a spot in the World Cup. Next cycle, expect La Selecta to qualify or at least come very close. For this match, the USMNT should secure a win, although obtaining three points is never easy on the road in CONCACAF.
“What can we say?” Pérez shared in an interview with Deportes Canal 4, perhaps recognizing the challenge ahead and setting reasonable expectations for his own side. “[They are] Nations League champion, Gold Cup champion, with two different groups… [It’s the] most talented group that I have seen in the last 10, 12 years… I think it is the youngest of the entire CONCACAF at the moment. There are players who are playing in important teams… Yesterday, I read an anecdote that said that they have to have nine points when they finish these three games according to the talent that they have… It is a very, very competitive [and] very talented and young [team] above all things.”
The match is scheduled for Thursday, September 2nd at 10:05 p.m. Eastern, 7:05 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include UNIVERSO, CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, and FUBO TV (free trial).