USA vs El Salvador
July 21, 2013
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
Watch on FOX/Univision | Live chat on MLSsoccer.com
The US national team faces another hurdle on its quest for the 2013 Gold Cup trophy in the Land of Pleasant Living on Sunday afternoon, as they meet upstarts El Salvador in the opening match of a quarterfinal doubleheader at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor district.
On paper, Los Cuscatlecos – who narrowly qualified for this round via a third-place finish in Group B – do not appear to be much of a threat to an in-form US squad which is on a program-record eight-game winning streak. But myriad challenges are in store both on the field, in the stands and in the minds of Jurgen Klinsmann's men.
The massive Salvadoran-American community spread across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia has responded to El Salvador's plucky run to the knockout stages with voracious consumption of tickets to Sunday's event, which sold out early Friday afternoon, raising the likelihood of a strongly partisan crowd rooting against the USMNT. And coach Agustín Castillo and his young squad have proved themselves to be a tenacious, resourceful group to reach this point.
The USA are 15-1-5 all-time against El Salvador, with a plus-33 goal differential further highlighting the traditional one-sidedness of this matchup. Furthermore, the USMNT have never lost to El Salvador at home, with a mark of 11-0-2 on US soil. But several of Sunday's combatants participated in the shock 3-3 draw Los Cuscatlecos' Under-23 squad achieved against their Yank counterparts in last year's CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Nashville, Tenn., a result that advanced El Salvador to that event's knockout stages and prematurely ended the USA's dreams of London.
Klinsmann's men were a bit startled and clearly underwhelmed by the defense-first approach taken by Costa Rica in Tuesday's final Group C game. There will be no surprise should El Salvador adopt the same tactic on Sunday, however, and they'll be boosted in such an effort by their legions of devoted fans.
Carving open space amid a packed blue-and-white defense will require focus and finesse from the Yanks, and could signal an opportunity for creative midfield types like Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres as service is sought for a diverse stable of strikers like Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski and possibly even two of this week's reinforcements, Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson.
Yet the danger posed by Salvadoran livewires Rafael Burgos, Rodolfo Zelaya – one of the Gold Cup's leading scorers with three strikes so far – and Léster Blanco may prompt Klinsmann to field holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman as protection for his backline, where another new arrival, Matt Besler, may supplant Michael Orozco Fiscal or Clarence Goodson in central defense.
EL SALVADOR OUTLOOK
La Selecta will carry more optimism into Sunday's showdown than the tale of the tape in this David-and-Goliath matchup might indicate.
Castillo's team has a strong US flavor thanks to the federation's concerted scouting efforts among the States' large Salvadoran-American communities – midfielder Richard Menjivar grew up in Southern California and played in the US youth national team system, for example – so they'll be familiar with their Yank adversaries. And the creativity and movement offered by Zelaya & Co. might even lead the underdogs to take the initiative.
“For sure we know it's going to be a tough game, the US is always a tough opponent with players that are playing in Europe, lots of talent,” Menjivar told ExtraTime Radio this week. “But we have a young team, we have players that are hungry, that work hard, that are not selfish, they put the team before themselves, and we have a mixture of veteran guys. We have the right mix.
“If we come out and play our game, and of course stay more focused than usual, I think we'll be fine.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Chris Wondolowski
The Yanks will undoubtedly create scoring chances on Sunday. The question is whether they can convert them with enough consistency to create distance between themselves and their upstart opponents and thereby calm their own nerves down the stretch. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, the best finisher in recent MLS history needs to put his skills to use in this regard – and bolster his longer-term USMNT prospects in the process.
EL SALVADOR – Rodolfo Zelaya
The beating heart of the Cuscatlecos attack, “Fito” Zelaya is tricky, elusive and cold-blooded around goal when he's at his best, and he's been at or near that level for most of the Gold Cup. His buzzing movement could present real tactical quandaries for the USA and it can only help his motivation that several MLS clubs – and who knows how many potential suitors elsewhere – are monitoring him closely.
GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/Germany, Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg/Sweden), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers/England), Brek Shea (Stoke City/England), Jose Torres (Tigres UANL/Mexico)
FORWARDS: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)
GOALKEEPERS: Dagoberto Portillo (Luis Ángel Firpo/El Salvador), Benji Villalobos (CD Águila/El Salvador), Derby Carrillo (Santa Tecla/El Salvador)
DEFENDERS: Xavier García (Luis Ángel Firpo/El Salvador), Víctor Turcios (RoPS/Finland), Steve Purdy (Chivas USA), José Miguel Granadino (FAS/El Salvador), Alexander Larín (FAS/El Salvador), Marcelo Posadas (Santa Tecla/El Salvador), José Henríquez (CD Águila/El Salvador)
MIDFIELDERS: Richard Menjivar (Atlanta Silverbacks/NASL), Darwin Céren (Juventud Independiente/El Salvador), Osael Romero (Alianza/El Salvador), Kevin Santamaría (Santa Tecla/El Salvador), Andrés Flores (Isidro Metapán/El Salvador), Darwin Bonilla (CD Águila/El Salvador), Gerson Mayén (FAS/El Salvador), Josué Odir Flores (Alianza/El Salvador), Néstor Renderos (FAS/El Salvador)
FORWARDS: Rafael Burgos (Kecskeméti/Hungary), Rodolfo Zelaya (Alianza/El Salvador), Dustin Corea (Skive/Denmark), Léster Blanco (Isidro Metapán/El Salvador), José Gutiérrez (CD Águila/El Salvador)