The United States Men’s National Team is looking to close out the four-match international window with an undefeated record, including two wins in the CONCACAF Nations League. A trip to El Salvador is next on the schedule, the main competition for first place in Group D. The fixture will take place at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador.
This is the 27th all-time meeting between the two countries, with the USMNT holding a 19-1-6 advantage that includes January’s 1-0 victory in a 2022 World Cup qualifier. Currently ranked at 74th in the world by FIFA, El Salvador finished seventh in the Octagonal with ten points from 14 matches. La Selecta opened the Nations League registering a win and a draw against Grenada, the “complicated” latter result causing a minor maelstrom of criticism in local media after struggling with the opponent’s “speed.”
El Salvador is managed by Hugo Pérez, a former U.S. international appointed to the role in January of 2021. In the midst of qualifying, he expressed an interest in managing a club in Major League Soccer. His intense recruitment of dual-national talents has borne fruit, upgrading the level of the program and strengthening lineups with a few familiar faces.
“Defensively, we were bad,” the manager said after drawing with Grenada. “We can’t give away the goals we had defensively. So we have to work this week because the United States won’t forgive you.”
Pérez named a 27-player roster for the window, including 16 call-ups from the domestic Primera División. Six of the inclusions compete for clubs based in the United States. Notable dual-nationals such as Eriq Zavaleta, Alex Roldan, Amando Moreno, and Joshua Pérez were left out of the squad.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kevin Carabantes (FAS), Mario González (Alianza), Tomas Romero (Los Angeles FC)
DEFENDERS (10): Erick Cabalceta (San Carlos), Elvis Claros (Jocoro), Rudy Clavel (FAS), Lizandro Claros (Aguila), Roberto Domínguez (Chalatenango), Alexander Larín (Comunicaciones), Kevin Menjívar (Once Deportivo), Ronald Rodríguez (FC Tulsa), Bryan Tamacas (Alianza), Eduardo Vigil (Luis Ángel Firpo)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Eric Calvillo (El Paso Locomotive), Darwin Cerén (Houston Dynamo), Jairo Henríquez (Aguila), Enrico Hernández (Vitesse), Bryan Landaverde (FAS), Christian Martínez (San Carlos), Kevin Melara (Aguila), Narciso Orellana (Alianza), Denis Pineda (Chalatenango)
FORWARDS (5): Nelson Bonilla (Port), Cristian Gil (Isidro Metapán), Roberto Molina (Las Vegas Lights), Kevin Reyes (FAS), Joaquín Rivas (Tulsa)
Pérez alternates between a four- and five-player back-line, usually lining up in a 4-2-3-1. His defenders have been caught a few too many times making costly passing errors or holding onto the ball for too long. Corners and set pieces are also an issue in recent matches, with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala creating multiple open looks from close range. The attack is strongest when directly targeting the final third with long balls served in diagonally from the wing, rarely scoring in sustained possession.
Mario González started all but one match during the Octagonal, with little reason for a change after several strong performances. The 25-year-old Alianza goalkeeper is an acrobatic shot-stopper who rarely leaves his box, while staying unmoved and unperturbed with opponents even a few yards away. Despite standing at 6’ even, he has a long reach and covers an impressive amount of space.
At 25 years old, Roberto Domínguez has already racked up over 50 senior international appearances. The Chalatenango center back times his slide tackles well and looks to loft the ball high to the wings when in possession. His partner will likely be FC Tulsa’s Ronald Rodríguez, who started in the majority of Octagonal fixtures. “One of the top young [defenders] in CONCACAF,” he is an “all-around” threat and dangerous on set pieces, both as taker and target. His edge defending is excellent, stopping wingers from progressing into the box. Despite Zavaleta being unavailable, Pérez could utilize a third center back against the potent USMNT attack, turning to Erick Cabalceta of San Carlos or 24-year-old Lizandro Claros.
Bryan Tamacas was held out of the second Grenada fixture with an injury but is expected to return to the starting lineup. The 27-year-old Alianza right back pushes high up the field and is one of the team’s most important attacking pieces. On the other side of the formation is Alexander Larin of Comunicaciones, He possesses the ability to instantly turn the tide with a slaloming dribbling run or long-distance shot.
Narciso Orellana should occupy one of the holding roles after reclaiming a spot in the starting lineup during last summer’s Gold Cup. He is difficult to dispossess of the ball and a master of short-range passing, linking his way through the center of the pitch. After making his senior international debut in May of 2015, Bryan Landaverde waited six years for his next call-up, emerging as a favorite for Pérez. Described as a “mixed midfielder” by El Grafico, the part-time pig farmer is a bulldog type with a low center of gravity, constantly on the hunt to break up possession.
The attacking group is varied and provides Pérez with a few different options. FC Tulsa attacker Joaquín Rivas had a strong start with the national team but mustered a meager single assist during qualifying. He plays as a second striker, serving as an additional target in the box and letting loose the occasional successful shot from distance. Jairo Henríquez is a tricky dribbler and can also push up top if needed. His tendency is to move to the center and drop deeper into the formation to receive the ball. El Salvador experienced a recruiting victory when securing the commitment of Enrico Hernández, with the former Dutch youth international also eligible for Finland and Curaçao. The 21-year-old Vitesse attacker has a high technical ability and keeps his feet moving, twisting and turning to draw in potential victims. Denis Pineda of Chalatenango and FAS’ Kevin Reyes could feature, as both held key roles in recent fixtures.
Nelson Bonilla has earned 53 caps with the national team since 2012, passing in and out of the program through the years. He’s currently on an upswing after scoring a brace in the first match against Grenada. The Port (Thailand) striker makes smart runs in the final third, drifting wide to receive the ball and finishing low from tight angles.
Nelson Bonilla has scored the first-ever World Cup qualification goal for El Salvador on Honduran soil.— Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) January 31, 2022
This is the teams' ninth WCQ in Honduras. Tonight La Selecta finally found the back of the net. pic.twitter.com/DshTAx79AZ
The USMNT looked strong during the past three matches, although there are still some moments of worry. El Salvador could take advantage of these weaknesses but may not have a strong enough roster at this juncture. With the match set to take place within the confines of the always challenging Estadio Cuscatlán, three points are far from guaranteed for Gregg Berhalter.
The match is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Fox Sports 1, TUDN USA, Univision, and FUBO TV (free trial).