On Saturday, the U.S. U-17 MNT takes on El Salvador in its final group stage contest of the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship. After its historic 4-3 win against Mexico, the U.S. needs just a draw to ensure a first-place finish in Group C. The game kicks off at 6:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on UDN and the CONCACAF YouTube channel.
Here are five things you should know about the USA’s final group opponent, El Salvador:
WHAT’S IN A (NICK)NAME?
The El Salvador national teams are commonly referred to as Los Cuscatlecos, which is derived from Cuzcatlán, the name that the original inhabitants of the country gave to the western part of El Salvador. Today, the Cuscatlán Department is a state in the middle of El Salvador, where the nation’s capital, San Salvador is located. Fittingly, Los Cuscatlecos play their home matches at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador.
2017 CONCACAF U-17 CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY
Helmed by former El Salvador international Erick Dowson Prado, who coincidently made his senior international debut against the U.S. in 1993, Los Cuscatlecos dropped their first two games of the tournament, falling to Mexico (6-0) and Jamaica (3-1). Eliminated from advancement, Los Cuscatlecos are now playing for pride as they close out their run at the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship on Saturday against the United States.
The El Salvador U-17 roster is mostly made up of domestic-based players (13), but does feature four currently based in the United States, two in Canada and two unattached. Turin F.C., of the Salvadoran second division has the most representation of any club with five players.
Goalkeepers (2): Jairo Guardado (Santa Tecla FC/SLV), Tomas Romero (Philadelphia Union/USA)
Defenders (6): Giovanni Avila (Santa Tecla FC/SLV), Erick Cartagena (CD FAS /SLV), Diego Chevez (Turin FC/SLV), Diego Guatemala (Santa Tecla FC/SLV), Kevin Menjivar (Turin FC/SLV), Sergio Ramirez (unattached)
Midfielders (9): Christian Barillas (Pateadores SC/USA), Jorge Cruz (CD Once Municipal/SLV), Andy Alas (Turin FC/SLV), Denis Garcia (Turin FC/SLV), Mauricio Gomez (Turin FC/SLV), Ever Guzman (Santa Tecla FC/SLV), Roberto Lopez (CD FAS /SLV), Rodrigo Santamaria (Regina FC/CAN), Allexon Saravia (D.C. United/USA)
Forwards (3): Ronald Cerritos (D.C. United/USA), Rolando Ramirez (CD FAS /SLV), Fernando Villalta (unattached)
PLAYING IN THE USA
Four players on the El Salvador roster are currently playing with clubs in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy: goalkeeper Tomas Romero, midfielders Christian Barillas and Allexon Saravia, and forward Ronald Cerritos.
If the Cerritos name sounds familiar, it’s because it is! Ronald Cerritos is the son of the former M.L.S. striker and El Salvador international who shares the same name. The senior Cerritos remains the San Jose Earthquakes’ all-time assist leader and also played for Dallas Burn, D.C. United and Houston Dynamo from 1997-2006. The younger Cerritos scored El Salvador’s lone goal of the tournament in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Jamaica and features in the D.C. United Academy, along with Saravia.
Romero isn’t too far from the D.C. United pair, as he plays in the Philadelphia Union Academy, while Barillas features for California-based side Pateadores SC.
CONCACAF U-17 CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
Since the inaugural CONCACAF U-17 Championship in 1983, Los Cuscatlecos have participated in all but four of the 17 tournaments (1992, 1999, 2013, 2015). The current edition marks El Salvador’s first appearance since 2011.
Having advanced from the final group stage in 1999, Los Cuscatlecos encountered their first do-or-die opportunity to reach the U-17 World Cup, having to face the U.S. in a two-leg playoff for the right to go to New Zealand. A U.S. team featuring future MNT stars Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu overpowered El Salvador over the two legs, winning 6-1 in San Salvador and 4-0 in Columbus to qualify for the World Cup.
El Salvador came close once again in 2011. Finishing second in the initial group stage, they advanced to the quarterfinals where they once again came up against the U.S. After playing to a 1-1 draw in regular time, the U.S. received goals from Mario Rodriguez and Marc Pelosi to edge El Salvador 3-2 after 120 minutes.Read more
One of the more senior members of the current U.S. Men’s National Team pool, Alejandro Bedoya has a story as interesting as any of his MNT teammates.
Here are five things you should know about the U.S. midfielder:
Alejandro Bedoya entered the world on April 29, 1987 in Englewood, N.J. Born to parents of Colombian descent, the family eventually moved to Weston, Fla., where he grew up.
Like many of his MNT teammates, soccer was in the family. Bedoya’s grandfather Fabio played three seasons as a goalkeeper for smaller Colombian side Deportes Quindío, while his father Adriano played a season for giants Millonarios and later with Quindío before earning a scholarship to play at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Bedoya remembered soccer being the center of the world as he grew up in a household with two former pros.
“Ever since I was a young kid, I can recall just having a ball and soccer was always on T.V.,” he told ussoccer.com. “My grandfather lived with us when I was growing up and we had the radio on listening to the broadcast of games.”
That exposure served him well as he developed with club side Weston FC and led St. Thomas Aquinas High School to a state championship in 2005.
Bedoya followed in his father’s footsteps by committing to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University and led the Knights with eight goals during his freshman season. After two years in Teaneck, N.J., Bedoya transferred to Boston College for his final two seasons.
He had a similarly impressive stint with the Eagles, tallying 14 goals in 37 matches to close his collegiate career in 2008 and 2009. He just missed being collegiate teammates with future MNT forward Charlie Davies.
A Move to the Pros
While many college seniors were spending that December preparing for the M.L.S. Combine, Bedoya had his sight set elsewhere. Shunning the norm of many American players looking to start their pro careers, the 22-year-old attacking midfielder agreed terms with Swedish side Örebro SK where he became a fan-favorite during three seasons in Scandinavia.
Months before leaving the club in 2011, Bedoya had a memorable goal and two assist performance in a 3-1 win against Gais (see below).
Looking for a new opportunity, Bedoya signed with Scottish giants Rangers FC in summer 2011, putting pen to paper the same day as then MNT captain Carlos Bocanegra and joining Maurice Edu at Ibrox. After one season in Scotland, Bedoya returned to Sweden, playing two seasons with Helsingborg before making a high-profile move to French side Nantes in summer 2013.
Upon signing with Les Canaris, Bedoya joined Bocanegra, Davies, David Regis and Greg Vanney in the small fraternity of U.S. players that made a go of it in French Ligue 1. Bedoya had his most successful club stint while with Nantes, scoring 19 goals in 105 appearances during the course of three seasons.
Just like in Sweden, he became a fan-favorite at Stade de la Beaujoire, and following his last home match led the club’s supporters in the famed American Outlaws chant “I Believe That We Will Win”, doing so while holding his son.
Following eight seasons in Europe, Bedoya returned stateside to join Philadelphia Union in August 2016 and helped push the club to its second ever playoff appearance.
U.S. Men’s National Team
Bedoya was part of training camps for the U.S. U-23 team during the 2008 Olympic cycle but didn’t make the final roster. Still, he remained on the MNT radar and following his first season with Örebro earned his first senior team call-up when he joined the U.S. side for January Camp in 2010. Though he had limited time to impress then U.S. boss Bob Bradley, he was named to the 30-man preliminary roster for that summer’s World Cup but ultimately didn’t join the team in South Africa.
Bedoya began to get an extended international run following the tournament and came in to his own in 2013, registering his first goal in a 6-0 friendly win against Guatemala before memorably providing two assists to Landon Donovan in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal win against Honduras.
An integral part of the team following that tournament, Bedoya was named to the USA’s 2014 FIFA World Cup roster and appeared in all four matches in Brazil, starting three. Following the tournament, he recorded his second international goal, tallying the game-winner in the USA’s 1-0 friendly victory at Czech Republic on Sept. 3, 2014.
Having passed the half-century mark for caps during Copa America Centenario in 2016, Bedoya is one of the most senior players in Bruce Arena’s current MNT player pool.
While he’s already had a stellar career, Bedoya has shown entrepreneurial spirit and already also has a head start on his post-playing career. Along with his sister Marcela and brother Santiago, Alejandro owns and operates M.A.S. Café, a company that utilizes coffee from his own family’s farm in Colombia to import and distribute their product in the United States.
Bedoya has his hands in a few other ventures as well. The MNT midfielder created BrightHill Partners which focuses on both short and long term investments in real estate. Additinoally, he is an investor in Icnclast, a talent agency for artists whose goal is to help move culture forward through the pursuit of design excellence.Read more
There was no Major League Soccer in 1965. No NASL or USL either. But there was the German-American Soccer League, a stew of ethnic clubs clustered in and around New York City’s five Burroughs. Teams played in God-forsaken corners of the city, under bridges in Brooklyn and up in the Bronx, on the ragged edges between salvage yards and dockyards, manufacturing plants and airports. And it was the best soccer in America.
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“These were the most exciting games back then,” said Dr. Joe Machnik, familiar to American soccer fans of today as Fox Sports’ resident rules analyst. But back in the day this native of Greenpoint, Brooklyn had a front-row seat to all the action as back-up goalkeeper for 1965 Open Cup champions New York Ukrainians. “You had great rivalries. The quality was high. We had some great players.”
One of those greats was Walter Schmotolocha. Whether you called him Woldoymyr or Walter, Walt or Junio – his nickname in the team – the diminutive midfielder was one of the best American players of his time. “He was the pride and joy of the Ukrainian-American community,” recalled Machnik with a smile.
The rough edges
“The fields were a disgrace,” said Schmotolocha from his home in Kerhonkson, a tiny hamlet in the Hudson River Valley with a large Ukrainian population. His voice is a mish-mash of old-time New York, Eastern Europe and proud 76-year-old granddad. “Nothing but glass bottles and trash out there. There were rocks everywhere. It was always muddy when it rained. You had no idea where the ball was going to bounce, so you had to be ready. I used to call it, ‘running the obstacle course!’”
All the teams played on fields like these. The Metropolitan Oval was built in 1925, two years after the league’s birth. Other teams played at the Throggs Neck Oval in the Bronx. “I remember one that was really bad,” chuckled Schmotolocha, a collegiate All-American at the Pratt Institute who was born and raised in Manhattan’s East Village, then crowded with Ukrainian immigrants. “It was next to a manufacturing plant in Ridgewood in Brooklyn and there was nothing but trash and stones and busted bottles.”
These fields were home to the shining lights of the day: the likes of New York Hungaria, loaded with pros who fled the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The New York Greek Americans, who most referred to simply as The Greeks, played on these fields too, and so did S.C. Eintracht and many, many more.
“They were the great equalizer,” Machnik said of those rough fields, built for football and often very narrow. The Ukrainians’ home pitch was out on the northwest corner of Queens, across Flushing Bay from LaGuardia airport. The club rented land in College Point and renamed it Ukrainians Sports Field. “There were salvage yards on both sides,” remembered Schmotolocha. And Machnik’s memories are the same: “There was no grass – not a blade. It was an industrial area with abandoned cars everywhere.”
Open Cup – A coveted prize
“Open Cup games were always extra special; they had extra weight behind them with the rivalries and pressure,” said Machnik. The German-American league regularly produced the champions of the Open Cup, which was touted by the New York Times in those years as “the most coveted prize in American Soccer.”
The pressure was doubled on the New York Ukrainians because their sister club, Ukrainian Nationals of Philadelphia, had a stranglehold on the Cup. They won it three times between 1959 to 1963. And the road to the 1965 final was anything but smooth for the New Yorkers. There were 131 participants at the start and they had to beat a raft of local rivals before booking a date with Hansa Chicago – another ethnic side and champions of the West – in a two-legged final. “We beat Elizabeth (of New Jersey) and The Greeks, and I don’t remember who else because I was just a player,” said Schmotolocha, who also won the Open Cup in 1972 with S.C. Elizabeth after putting in two years of military service down south in Georgia. “I showed up at the field and played the team in front of me. Didn’t matter who, or what stage, it was just a soccer game for me.”
Schmotolocha’s performances weren’t always restricted to the rocky ovals of Gotham. In March of 1965, he earned a pair of caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team. “It was silent after the American anthem played at the LA Coliseum, but after the Mexican anthem, the place went wild!” the playmaker, with a vicious long-distance shot, remembered of that qualifier for the 1966 World Cup. He scored a free-kick on the day in a 2-2 draw and then traveled to the just-built Estadio Azteca in Mexico City for the return fixture. “I was looking around, knowing I was in California, but I had to ask myself: What country am I in right now?”
If you’re good enough, you’re Ukrainian enough
The Ukrainian team of 1965 wasn’t all Ukrainian. None of the teams were homogeneous. Machnik wasn’t Ukrainian and neither was Peter Smethurst or his brother Derick, a South African who played for Chelsea. The late Gordon Bradley, the team’s player-coach in 1965, was born in England and went on to coach the U.S. National Team and star-studded NASL glamor-boys NY Cosmos. But the vast majority of the ’65 side grew up together, from sandlot ball through the club’s youth systems, and by the time they reached the Open Cup final they were the best team in America.
The first leg finished 1-1 at home in Queens. “We had the edge,” recalled Schmotolocha, who went on to start a shipping business after his soccer days. Hansa’s star forward Willy Roy, who played for nearly a decade in the U.S. National Team and later coached the NASL’s Chicago Sting, scored the goal for the visitors. “It wasn’t too hot and there were some clouds. We were just feeling each other out and we missed a few good chances, but we knew the result was a good one for us. They weren’t much trouble.”
When they got to Chicago seven days later, and out on Hansa’s Hanson Park Stadium, it was a different story altogether. “We took them apart at their place. They had this nice little stadium, almost brand-new, and about 5,000 people were out to watch us,” said Schmotolocha, who scored in the 4-1 rout. “The field was flat, really nice and clean, so we didn’t have to run the obstacle course! We moved the ball, controlled it. It didn’t fly away from us. And we destroyed them.”
Chicago’s victory shindig
Machnik missed the final because of a job he couldn’t get out of. “That was too bad for him,” said Schmotolocha, telling of the victory party that followed the trophy ceremony.
“There was a Ukrainian guy, a doctor in Chicago, and he took us all out to the best restaurant in the city. I remember it right now. It was like Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. There were four tiers and those half-moon booths you see in the movies. And it was some party,” Schmotolocha said. He could have just as easily been talking about the whole 1965 Cup run, or the entirety of his youth, and those days out in the Ovals that he remembers so fondly.
“After that, we all flew back to our lives. Those were our 15 minutes of fame,” he said in his old man’s voice. “But boy was it fun.”
Sometimes all a player needs is a chance. No one has proven that more than U.S. Men’s National Team left back Jorge Villafaña, whose claim to fame was winning Major League Soccer’s Sueño competition in 2007 and then realizing his professional dream with Chivas USA a year later.
Villafaña parlayed that opportunity into a long stint with the LA-based club, call-ups to the U.S. U-20 and U-23 sides and even an M.L.S. Cup title with Portland Timbers in 2015. Still, a summons to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp remained elusive until this past January.
Serving as the second-choice left back with Liga MX side Santos Laguna, the 27-year-old was given a pass by his club to join the camp and impressed MNT head coach Bruce Arena in friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.
Full of confidence, Villafaña returned to Torreón where he continued his understudy role, getting playing time only in the club’s Copa MX fixtures. An injury to starter Gerardo Arteaga gave Sueño his first chance at a league appearance in the current campaign, going 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw March 17 at Tijuana ahead of the USA’s World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
“I got an opportunity to play against Xolos right before I went into camp,” Villafaña told ussoccer.com this week. “It felt good, we got a draw on the road and then I went with the National Team.”
A week later, Villafaña earned his World Cup Qualifying debut, working a solid shift in the U.S. MNT’s 6-0 World Cup Qualifying win against Honduras. Four days after that, he showed similar determination in locking down the left side to help the U.S. grind out a 1-1 draw in Panama.
“The two games helped a lot and gave me a lot of confidence coming back to Santos,” he continued.
This time upon his return to Torreón, he remained the starter.
Villafaña has played the full 90 minutes in each of fifth-place Santos Laguna’s last six league matches, helping the club go 3-0-3 and gain 12 of the 24 total points they’ve earned during the current Clausura campaign. Those three wins include a 1-0 victory against 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League finalist Pachuca on April 9 and a 2-1 win this past weekend vs. Club América.
The run has also lifted Santos from 11th place all the way to fifth, with a chance to clinch a berth in the playoffs (also known as the Liguilla) with a win at Chiapas on Saturday. In the end, just two points from their final two matches will do the trick.
Villafaña has kept in touch with the MNT coaching staff, who have been positive about his club performances, and also said that Santos manager José Manuel de la Torre had taken notice of his play for the U.S.; the former Mexico head coach praised his progress during the past few months.
“He’s said to everyone to keep working because you never know when the opportunity to play will show up. We always have to be ready, and my situation shows that the opportunity is there for everyone to take. I feel like I’ve done that.”
Jorge Villafaña 2017 Liga MX Appearances
Santos Laguna Result
1-1 D at Club Tijuana
1-0 W vs. Querétaro
1-0 W vs. Pachuca
2-2 D vs. Monterrey
1-1 D at Atlas
2-1 W vs. Club América
And what about being a U.S. international playing in Mexico?
The MNT left back says he and teammate Néstor Araújo – who is also a center back for El Trí – have exchanged a few friendly words leading up to the USA’s upcoming visit to Estadio Azteca on June 11 for World Cup Qualifying, but there’s no animosity about who he represents.
Instead his teammates and the fan base have shown support for his international rise.
“People don’t give me a hard time,” he said. “My teammates are happy that I’ve been getting called for the National Team and that I’m doing well. Even outside the team, the people here don’t give me a hard time about it. The people of Torreón are great. They support me even though I play for Mexico’s big rival.”Read more