The United States men’s national team is back in action, taking on El Salvador at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Barring a last-minute scheduling surprise, this should be the last match of a trying and difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a victory against a familiar opponent, Gregg Berhalter has the opportunity to close out 2020 undefeated.
The United States has a 17-1-5 all-time record against El Salvador. This is the Central American nation’s first competitive match in almost a year, the most recent a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January. La Seleccion has failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1982. The team is in the upper tier of the CONCACAF region, reaching nearly every Gold Cup including the upcoming 2021 edition.
El Salvador is led by Carlos de los Cobos, who took over in 2018 and previously held the job from 2006 through 2009. He’s been largely successful, sporting a 14-6-1 record, with a loss to Bermuda the only blight on his résumé. Under his leadership, the country easily finished atop its group in the Nations League, earning promotion to League A in the next edition of the tournament.
De los Cobos called in a 19-player roster for the match against the United States. Ten members are domestically based in the Salvadoran Primera División and four compete in the United States. The squad features a mix of seasoned veterans and young prospects.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Henry Hernández (CD Malacateco), Benjí Villalobos (CD Águila)
DEFENDERS (6): Alexander Larín (Isidro Metapán), Bryan Tamacas (Alianza FC), Jonathan Jiménez (Rio Grande Valley FC), Iván Mancia (Alianza FC), Alexander Mendoza (Santa Tecla), Roberto Domínguez (Bolívar)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Marvin Monterroza (Alianza FC), Narciso Orellana (Alianza FC), Juan Carlos Portillo (Alianza FC), Rodrigo Rivera (Santa Tecla), Denis Pineda (Técnico Universitario), Darwin Cerén (Houston Dynamo), Andrés Flores (Unattached), Pablo Punyed (KR Reykjavík)
FORWARDS (3): José David Díaz (Santa Tecla), Joaquín Rivas (FC Tulsa), Dustin Corea (Unattached)
El Salvador is missing several key players. Mainstay midfielders Jaime Alás and Óscar Cerén were not called up. Reliable goal scorers Rodolfo Zelaya and Nelson Bonilla were not included in the roster. However, this is still close to a full-strength squad, taking advantage of one last fixture before beginning World Cup qualifying in March.
Tactically, De los Cobos is flexible, alternating between the 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations. The latter, safer option has largely been his preference against stronger opponents such as Brazil and Japan, although it hasn’t been deployed in a long time. With the match having such low stakes, the choice will likely be to utilize a double-pivot in the midfield.
El Salvador has two veteran options at goalkeeper. The likely starter is number one and regular captain Henry Hernández. The 35-year-old has earned 39 caps and played every minute in the 2019 Gold Cup and Nations League. Backup Benjí Villalobos is highly experienced with 259 appearances in the Salvadoran domestic league and another 17 with the national team.
The team is perhaps strongest on the back line, with all six defenders having made several international appearances. Alianza left back Jonathan Jiménez is a favorite for de los Cobos, starting most of the matches after his hiring. The 28-year-old presses high up the field, often serving as a focal point for the attack. Bryan Tamacas, an aggressive pusher of the tempo, should start at right back. The center back pairing of Roberto Dominguez and Iván Mancia have formed a successful partnership, playing every minute together during the Gold Cup and Nations League. Neither is physically imposing nor should pose a serious threat on set pieces.
Expect a central midfield trio of Darwin Cerén, Narciso Orellana, and Andrés Flores. Cerén had a strong season for the Houston Dynamo and is one of the most experienced members of the squad with 60 caps. He regularly jumpstarts the attack or switches the field, especially after forcing a turnover. Orellana started every match in the recent Gold Cup and Nations League at defensive midfielder and is difficult to dispossess of the ball. Attacking midfielder Flores was recently released by the Portland Timbers. Utility man Marvin Monterroza may also feature in a defensive or attacking role.
Dynamic winger Denis Pineda of Ecuadorian club Técnico Universitario presents a threat. The 24-year-old drives deep into the final third with long dribbling runs before crossing but also has an off-ball tendency to drift into the box behind defenders. The other wide midfielder will be Juan Carlos Portillo, a more methodical player who prefers to hold play up and pick the right pass.
The options at striker are hardly prolific, with a combined two senior international goals between the three call-ups. The starter could be José David Díaz who manned the front line in January’s friendly against Iceland. The Santa Tecla striker has spent his entire career in El Salvador and only recently made his national team debut in 2018. American-born Dustin Corea could also see time up top. The acrobatic striker-winger hybrid possesses a flair for the dramatic that manifests in long-range shots and the ability to create space on crosses and dead balls.
Los Cuzcatlecos’ attacks tend to be built through the wings, with converted crosses providing the most success. El Salvador can be frivolous in possession, giving away the ball in the defensive half, which leads to dangerous goal scoring opportunities. Gregg Berhalter’s high pressure should yield positive results.
While the American roster is inexperienced and missing the best available players competing in Europe, victory should still be expected. This is neither a full-strength Salvadoran squad nor a team that has proven capable of keeping pace in a high-scoring match, particularly without a prolific striker on the roster. The young, energetic U.S. side has the opportunity to dictate the tempo and take advantage of counter-attacks and dead bull opportunities.
The match is scheduled for Wednesday, December 9th at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 Pacific. Viewing options include ESPNews, TUDN USA, UniMás, and Fubo TV (free trial).