Five Things to Know About El SalvadorThe USMNT faces El Salvador in the opening match of its 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying winter window on Thursday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, UniMas and TUDN). Presented by BioSteel.
After a two-month layoff, the U.S. Men's National Team kicks off its 2022 portion of FIFA World Cup Qualifying by hosting El Salvador at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2, UniMas, TUDN).
A victory will mean the USMNT (4-1-3, 15 points) will retain at least second place in the Concacaf Octagonal. A USA win, combined with a draw or loss by first-place Canada (4-0-4, 16) at last-place Honduras (0-5-3, 3) the same day, would boost the Americans into the group lead in its quest to reach Qatar.
The game kicks off an arduous schedule for both sides that consists of three-game in seven days.
The seventh-place Salvadorans (1-4-3, 6) will be fighting for their qualifying lives as a defeat would push them closer to elimination.
Here’s five things to know about Thursday’s opponents:
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING HISTORY
El Salvador is trying to snap a nine-cycle streak of failing to reach the World Cup. It has competed in the Concacaf final round in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2010 World Cup qualifying tournaments. Los Cuscatlecos finished fifth and last in 1990 (0-4-2), third out of four teams in 1994 (2-4-0), fifth out of six teams in 1998 (2-4-4) and fifth out of six teams in 2010 (2-6-2).
El Salvador have participated in the global event twice - in 1970 and 1982. The team finished last - 16th and 24th - in both competitions.
EL SALVADOR MANAGER
Hugo Pérez should be a name quite familiar to soccer fans as the former USMNT midfielder helped the United States qualify for the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy and played for the U.S. at World Cup ‘94.
Today, he is directing the country of his birth. After emigrating with his family to the Los Angeles area as a nine-year-old, Pérez gained U.S. citizenship years later. Considered one of the best attacking players of his era, Pérez scored 13 goals in 73 international matches.
Perhaps his most memorable goal came against El Salvador. In a game that was moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras because of crowd violence during a previous qualifier in El Salvador, Pérez scored the lone goal in the 62nd minute to boost the USA to a 1-0 win on Sept. 17, 1989, and a big step toward qualifying for its first World Cup in 40 years.
He earned many honors during his playing days. The midfielder was the 1991 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the year and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008.
Pérez served as U.S. Under-14 and U-15 coach from 2012-14 before becoming an assistant coach with El Salvador from 2015-16, taking the reins as the U-23 coach and later the full national side earlier this year.
2022 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
Since opening the Octagonal with a scoreless tie with the USA at home on Sept. 2, the Central Americans have struggled finding the net. They have scored only four goals, the least of the eight finalists, while suffering four shutouts.
El Salvador was blanked in its opening matches in the September window - a pair of 0-0 home ties with the USA and Honduras and a 3-0 away loss to Canada.
WATCH: USMNT and El Salvador Begin WCQ on Sept. 2, 2021
Their WCQ goalless streak ended at 307 minutes as Enrico Hernández tallied in the 37th minute in a 1-0 home win vs. Panama on Oct. 7, La Selecta’s lone group victory. It dropped a 2-1 decision at Costa Rica on Oct. 10, as Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges and found the net for the hosts six minutes apart early in the second half for the visitors. Three days later, visiting Mexico downed them 2-0.
During the November window, El Salvador mustered only one point in two matches. It salvaged a 1-1 home draw with Jamaica in San Salvador on Nov. 12 as Alex Roldan – younger brother of USMNT midfielder Cristian Roldan -- struck for the equalizer in the 90th minute after Michail Antonio had given the visitors the lead eight minutes earlier.
Four days later in Panama City, La Selecta could not hold onto a 1-0 lead on an opening-minute score by Jairo Henríquez. The Panamanians tallied twice within a two-minute span early in the second half to secure a 2-1 win.
The squad has played two friendlies in the U.S. since, a 1-1 draw with Ecuador in Houston on Dec. 4 as Romulo Villalobos scored the equalizer, and a 1-0 loss to Chile in Los Angeles on Dec. 11.
Hugo Pérez summoned a 23-player squad for the winter qualifying window. Twelve players are based domestically, with two featuring in MLS, four in the United Soccer League and one each in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Thailand and the Netherlands. In contrast to selecting a traditional three goalkeepers, Pérez chose only two for these three games.
Domestically, Alianza has provided the most players to the squad (four), followed by FAS (three).
Of the MLS-based players, there is one interesting connection to the USMNT. Alex Roldan is the younger brother and Seattle Sounders teammate of USMNT midfielder Cristian Roldan. Born to a Salvadoran mother and Guatemalan father, Cristian chose to represent the United States while Alex made the decision to play for El Salvador.
The younger Roldan debuted and scored his first international goal in the team’s opening match of the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, a 2-0 win against Guatemala. He tallied his second in a 1-1 draw vs. Jamaica in WCQ on Nov. 12.
Houston Dynamo midfielder Darwin Céren (81 caps), 32, who has served as Los Cuscatlecos’ team captain, is the most experienced player on the roster.
Midfielder Alexander Larin, who performs for Comunicaciones (Guatemala) is next with 70 international appearances.
Forward Nelson Bonilla, who plays for Port in Thailand, is the squad’s leading scorer with 16 goals in 49 matches.
Detailed Roster by Position (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (2): Kevin Carabantes (FAS; 4/0), Mario González (Alianza; 19/0)
DEFENDERS (7): Roberto Domínguez (Chalatenango; 48/1), Alexander Larin (Comunicaiones/GUA; 70/4), Ronaldo Rodriguez (FC Tulsa/USA; 18/0), Bryan Tamacas (Alianza; 52/1), Eduardo Vigil (Firpo; 7/0), Romulo Villalobos (Municipal Limeno; 5/1), Eriq Zavaleta (Unattached; 13/1)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Eric Calvillo (El Paso Locomotiv/USA; 3/0), Darwin Cerén (Houston Dynamo/USA; 81/4), Enrico Hernández (Vitesse/NED; 8/1), Bryan Landaverde (FAS; 5/0), Christian Martinez Mena (San Carlos/CRC; 7/0), Marvin Monterroza (Alianza; 40/2), Narciso Orellana (Alianza; 44/1), Kevin Reyes (FAS; 4/0), Alex Roldan (Seattle Sounders/USA; 12/2)
FORWARDS (5): Nelson Bonilla (Port FC/THA; 49/16), Cristian Gil (Metapan; 1/0), Jairo Henríquez (Aguila; 23/3), Walmer Martinez (Monterey Bay; 18/2), Joaquín Rivas (FC Tulsa/USA; 24/4)