Gold Cup: El Salvador look to repeat last year's pre-Olympic stunner vs USMNT: "It can happen again"

El Salvador U23s celebrate pre-Olympic draw with US

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USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE – El Salvador's all-time record against the USA makes for discouraging reading from a Cuscatleco perspective, with just one win to their credit in 21 matches.

But for several members of the squad that will meet the heavily favored US national team in the Gold Cup quarterfinals at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday (4 pm ET, Fox/Univision, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), there's power and inspiration in the memory of their shock 3-3 draw with the US as part of the El Salvador Under-23 team in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in March 2012.

“We have quite a few of them on this team here, and they know that they can get a good result against the USA,” said El Salvador and Chivas USA defender Steve Purdy on Saturday. “I know it was a pre-Olympic game, but they were able to do that, so they have that feeling still fresh.

“It can happen again.”

Jaime Alas' last-gasp equalizer in Nashville, Tenn., saw the Central Americans qualify for the tournament's knockout stages at the expense of their much-ballyhooed northern opponents, a setback that still stings the US U-23s (several of whom are on the Yanks' Gold Cup roster) and U.S. Soccer in general.

Alas – who signed with the San Jose Earthquakes last week – is one of many young Salvadoran talents who used their Olympic qualifying efforts to vault into the senior team setup, and the fact that a number of them grew up and honed their skills in the United States only adds to the discomfort for USMNT fans.

“They are obviously full of players that caused big damage to our Olympic team last year,” said Jurgen Klinsmann on Saturday. “They grew through the Under-17, Under-20 and Under-23 to the senior level they’re in now. They’re a team gifted with technical players, gifted with fast transition players, have good understanding between each other. We know that this is going to be a huge hurdle.”

Beyond the abilities they bring to the Salvadoran program, the Salvadoran-Americans hope to impart a sense of possibility against the Yanks that older generations may lack.

“They made history here in El Salvador, the guys with the 23s, and now we're trying to make history here,” Gerson Mayen, a Los Angeles-born midfielder who played in the US youth national team system before switching his allegiance to El Salvador, told MLSsoccer.com.

“I believe in my team, and hopefully they believe it as well, that we can get this victory. Sometimes the players here probably don't believe that they could beat the US, because they respect them too much," added the former Chivas USA prospect. "I'm just here to try to encourage them and support them, and telling them not to think that way. I've been with the national team of the US as well, and I know how these guys think.”

El Salvador coach Agustín Castillo acknowledged, then downplayed last year's Olympic upset, noting that his youngsters have to get a much tougher job done – under a much hotter spotlight – on Sunday.

“Yes, some players have faced off in the pre-Olympic competition,” said the wiley Peruvian. “The hardest thing to handle will be the pressure. And we have talked to our players: It's a difficult opponent and our group is ready to face this match.

“It's a different tournament, and they were managed with less pressure.”

US midfielder Joe Corona scored one of the U-23s' goals that fateful night in Nashville. While he admits that the setback burned for a long time, the trophy his current team is hunting looms far larger.

“I just want to do my job, try to keep that in the past and try to get the win tomorrow,” he said. “You've got to let it go, man. You've just got to look forward and try to think of winning the Gold Cup.”