El Salvador vs. Canada
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier
November 17 | 8:30 pm ET | Estadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador
TV: beIN SPORTS
In World Cup qualifying, one game is all it takes to fundamentally alter a team’s perspective – and its path to the big tournament.
For Canada, the road to Russia 2018 is looking a little clearer after a 1-0 win over Honduras in Vancouver on Friday. Sure, the path is still very long, very difficult and one that few are expecting the team to see to its conclusion. But the win over Honduras, in the opener of the semifinal round in CONCACAF, has once again boosted hopes among fans of Les Rouges that, perhaps, this is the qualification cycle.
For El Salvador, the road is looking much rockier after a 3-0 loss to Mexico to open the round. That sort of result was to be expected, given the turmoil around the team. Due to an ongoing dispute between players and the governing body, El Salvador brought a profoundly inexperienced roster to this set of qualifying games.
Heading into the tilt with Mexico, more than half of the players had five or fewer national-team caps; in fact, eight of them were uncapped at the senior level.
In fairness, Canada also has their share of neophytes on the roster (seven players with five or fewer caps), but it’s not out of desperation. Rather, they have benefitted from the arrival of some key newcomers in the past year; two of them – Junior Hoilett and Cyle Larin – were involved in Canada’s goal in that highly emotional victory at BC Place.
So in the aftermath of the round’s opening games, it would seem that Canada are full of momentum, while El Salvador are on the ropes, struggling to simply keep their qualification campaign afloat. But that’s the thing about World Cup qualifying: One game always has the capacity to change everything.
The last time these teams met was at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, fighting to a 0-0 stalemate to start off play in the group stage. The last meeting prior to that also came in the Gold Cup (the 2009 edition), another tightly fought game in which Canada emerged with a 1-0 win.
Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1999 – long before any current members of either roster were part of their respective senior national teams. The teams met fairly frequently in the 1990s; the all-time record stands at seven wins for Canada, three for El Salvador and three draws.
While the history between the two teams will have little bearing on Tuesday’s match, another sort of history might: Canada have not won a game in Central America since a victory in Guatemala in November 2004.
That was supposed to change this past September, against Belize; but Canada could manage only a 1-1 draw in their second round World Cup qualifier, still enough to advance. The true test of history will be whether the Canadians can overcome the traditional Central American roadblock and earn a vital result in San Salvador.
The outlook is a whole lot sunnier thanks to Friday night’s win, to be sure. Anything less than a win would have had many assuming that Canada’s campaign was already over. Instead, the team now head south with three points in the bag, knowing that four points (or even six, if one is being extra optimistic) from two games is an attainable target.
In slightly more than two years under head coach Benito Floro, Canada’s emphasis has been on maintaining an organized defensive structure and shape. That approach, the thinking goes, would serve the team well in the crucible of World Cup qualifying, when it can be essential to grind out tight results.
The plan worked well against Honduras on Friday, with Canada appearing in control for most of the match. That result lifted Canada’s record in 2015 to 6-2-5. The team also secured a 0-0 draw on the road in Panama City in a friendly last fall, Canada’s first result of any sort in Central America in a decade.
But this round of qualifying will be a different ballgame, with a fervent crowd, desperate opposition and all the CONCACAF chicanery that fans have come to know and loathe.
EL SALVADOR OUTLOOK
To say it’s been a tough few years for El Salvador off the field would be an understatement. Two years ago, 14 national-team players were handed lifetime bans in connection with a match-fixing scandal. Then, last month, the players who were selected for this set of World Cup qualifiers went on strike, forcing head coach Ramón Maradiaga to name a new roster.
The situations are grim reminders of the difficulties faced in El Salvador. But the wheel of international soccer moves ever forward, and the players suiting up for Los Cuscatlecos will no doubt go about their duty with pride and determination.
Thus far in 2015, El Salvador are 3-7-4, with all three wins coming in the early rounds of World Cup qualifying against regional minnows Curacao and St. Kitts & Nevis. The team fought hard at the CONCACAF Gold Cup but could not escape a tough group with Costa Rica, Jamaica and Canada.
Of course, given that few members of the current El Salvador squad were involved in most of those games, it’s truly anyone’s guess as to how the team will perform in front of their home crowd on Tuesday evening.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Atiba Hutchinson, Canada – It feels as though the 32-year-old Besiktas midfielder could be the “man to watch” any time he suits up for Canada. But once more, against Honduras on Friday night, Hutchinson showed himself to be a class above any other player on the field, for either team.
His determination, his vision and the calm demeanor with which he does everything on the field is a sight to behold. If Canada are going to get a result down in San Salvador, he is certain to play a big part in getting them there.
Rafael Burgos, El Salvador – The 27-year-old striker is the second most experienced member of this squad, with 47 caps for El Salvador, and one of only five players on the roster with 10 or more national-team appearances.
Like most of his teammates, he’s currently playing domestically in El Salvador, but he does have international experience on the club side, having played in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway and the US (with Minnesota United in the NASL).
With 13 international goals, he’s the most prolific scorer on this El Salvador squad and will likely provide the home side’s best chance at cracking a stingy Canadian defense.
Goalkeepers (3): Simon Thomas (Strommen/Norway); Milan Borjan (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
Defenders (9): Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps); Fraser Aird (Glasgow Rangers/Scotland); David Edgar (Sheffield United/England); Dejan Jakovic (Shimizu S-Pulse); Manjrekar James (Diósgyőri/Hungary); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad/Norway); Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City); Karl Ouimette (New York Red Bulls); Wandrille Lefèvre (Montreal Impact)
Midfielders (9): Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas); Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury); Kianz Froese (Vancouver Whitecaps); David “Junior” Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers/England); Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas/Turkey); Will Johnson (Portland Timbers); Samuel Piette (Deportivo la Coruña/Spain); Tosaint Ricketts (Boluspor/Turkey); Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Forwards (2): Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandra/England); Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
Goalkeepers (3): Henry Hernández (Isidro Metapán/El Salvador); Luis Edgardo Contreras (FAS/El Salvador); Oscar Arroyo (Alianza/El Salvador)
Defenders (6): Ibsen Castro (Aguila/El Salvador); Henry Romero (Aguila/El Salvador); Juan Barahona (Santa Tecla/El Salvador); Andres Flores Jaco (Alizana/El Salvador); Roberto Domínguez (Santa Tecla/El Salvador); Giovanni Zavaleta (Santa Tecla/El Salvador)
Midfielders (9): Jaime Alas (Municipal/Guatemala); Pablo Punyed (IBV/Iceland); Dennis Pineda (UANL II/Mexico); Josué Flores (Isidro Metapán/El Salvador); Jonathan Jiménez (FAS/El Salvador); Diego Chavarría (Santa Tecla/El Salvador); Kevin Sagastizado (Pasaquina/El Salvador); Yubini Salamanca (Pasaquina/El Salvador); José Santos (Aguila/El Salvador)
Forwards (4): Rafael Burgos (FAS/El Salvador); Nelson Bonilla (Zira/Azerbaijan); Dustin Corea (FC Edmonton); José Ángel Peña (FAS/El Salvador)