The United States Men’s National Team churned through 2022 World Cup qualifying, and is now in the back half of the schedule. Carrying 15 points from eight matches, Gregg Berhalter has his squad on pace to claim a spot in Qatar, although any stumble could result in a ticket to the inter-confederation playoffs. The upcoming fixture against El Salvador will be contested at Lower.com Field in the historically significant city of Columbus, Ohio.
This is the 26th meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding an 18-1-6 advantage. The last match-up occurred in September at the start of qualifying, ending in a scoreless draw. El Salvador is at seventh place in the eight-team CONCACAF table with a 1-4-3 record, eight points out of the playoff spot. Despite an impressive 1-0 win over Panama and the aforementioned opening result, the lack of victories has made a spot in Qatar all but out of reach.
La Selecta is led by former U.S. international Hugo Pérez, who was appointed to the manager role in April of 2020. The 58-year-old has compiled a 7-9-6 record while in charge. His focus appears centered on turning over the player pool, giving experience to younger talents, and building toward the future. The team prepared for the upcoming match with December friendlies against Ecuador and Chile, as well as three closed-door scrimmages against local club sides.
Pérez named a 23-player squad for the upcoming international window. Joshua Pérez, a former U.S. youth international, is absent. The manager is attempting to find a balance between talents both from abroad and within the domestic Primera División, continuing to add new talents at a steady rate.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Kevin Carabantes (FAS), Mario González (Alianza)
DEFENDERS (7): Roberto Domínguez (Chalatenango), Alexander Larín (Comunicaciones), Ronald Rodríguez (FC Tulsa), Bryan Tamacas (Alianza), Eduardo Vigil (Firpo), Rómulo Villalobos (Municipal), Eriq Zavaleta (Toronto FC)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Eric Calvillo (El Paso Locomotive), Darwin Cerén (Houston Dynamo), Enrico Dueñas Hernández (Vitesse), Bryan Landaverde (FAS), Christian Martinez (San Carlos), Marvin Monterroza (Alianza), Narciso Orellana (Alianza), Kevin Reyes (FAS), Alex Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
FORWARDS (5): Nelson Bonilla (Port), Cristian Gil (Metapán), Jairo Henríquez (Aguila), Walmer Martinez (Monterey Bay), Joaquín Rivas (Tulsa Roughnecks)
Pérez alternates between various forms of the 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 formations, preferring the former during the Octagonal. Outside of a few fixtures, he has stuck to the same lineups, a healthy mix of veterans and recent introductions to the program. Over the past few matches, the strategy has involved long balls, crosses, and shots from distance. The defense has demonstrated a susceptibility to commits fouls in less than desirable areas and on set pieces.
Mario González has started at goalkeeper for every match during the Octagonal, a trend that appears unlikely to change. The 24-year-old made his senior international debut last June and became established as the number one with a wide array of acrobatic saves. A touch undersized at 6’0”, his tendency is to stay on the line, avoiding challenging for crosses and fast breaks. In a recent interview, he expressed little pressure for the upcoming fixture and is unbothered by the potential of a cold Ohio winter.
Described “as one of the top young center backs in CONCACAF,” Ronald Rodriguez is a relatively new member of the squad, starting in five qualifiers since debuting for the squad last summer. A few days ago, the 23-year-old secured a move from Club Deportivo Águila to FC Tulsa. He is a dangerous target on set pieces and drills the ball around the field. His partner should be Eriq Zavaleta, another recent addition to the squad. The former U.S. youth international had an up-and-down season for a struggling Toronto FC but can be an asset in a possession-based build-up.
Alexander Larín should start at left back, a consistent lineup presence for Pérez. He is an attack-minded player and has a tendency to shoot, while also serving as the designated free kick taker. On the opposite side of the formation is Bryan Tamacas, a 26-year-old on the books at domestic Alianza. His specialty is making bombing runs into the final third, picking out a cross or cutting inside with a sharp dribble.
Midfield is the strongest group in the El Salvador formation. In a curious case, Christian Martínez had his senior international debut in March of 2021, suiting up for Costa Rica. A few months later, he switched to La Selecta and has made several appearances at the six. His full-body tackles are complemented by steadiness in the build-up and incisive long balls that open up opposing defenses. If Pérez opts for a more defensive posture, Darwin Ceren is the logical inclusion for an empty bucket. The 32-year-old is responsible for jump-starting the attack, facilitating possession and funneling the ball up the field. If a more advanced player is required, Marvin Monterroza fits the bill and provides quick combination with teammates.
Vitesse winger Enrico Duenas Hernandez has appeared in every qualifier. The 20-year-old former Dutch youth international is a methodical mover of the ball, waiting and spinning until selecting the correct pass. The other side of the field features Alex Roldan, who has served as captain in recent matches. His ability to play a diagonal ball to the back post is dangerous, while also sneaking into the box for the occasional finish.
Proving that formations are fluid and positions are mere suggestion, Águila winger Jairo Henríquez has slotted into a striker role. He contributed three goals and three assists in 2021, while also facilitating possession with constant movement. Joaquín Rivas has been his main partner during qualifying but is scoreless thus far, a disappointing run after scintillating form at the recent Gold Cup. The 29-year-old has a tendency to drift behind defenders, find empty space, and claim more than his share of headers.
El Salvador takes one back!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 25, 2021
Joaquin Rivas gives life to La Selecta pic.twitter.com/hAY0CPgt27
El Salvador achieved an impressive result in the first Octagonal fixture, holding the USMNT to a scoreless draw at home. Since then, the two nations have moved in different directions, with World Cup qualification appearing a distant dream for La Selecta. This is an important match for Gregg Berhalter, as anything less than three points would be seen as the true squandering of an opportunity.
The match is scheduled for Thursday, January 27th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN2, TUDN USA, UniMás, and FUBO TV (free trial).