Opinion – The 2022 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying window is back, as the road to the world’s greatest tournament winds down. Thursday sees the return of the USMNT hosting El Salvador in what’ll be a frigid night in Columbus, Ohio. For Gregg Berhalter’s crew, it should be a one-sided affair as they look to maintain pace with Canada at the top of the table. Conversely, it is simply make or break time for La Selecta.
It’s make or break time for El Salvador
Hugo Perez and his players have put forth spirited efforts in trying to assert themselves as a formidable opponent. But a closer look tells an entirely different story. El Salvador have score just four goals so far in WCQ, the fewest of any team. They’ve conceded 10 goals, tied with Jamaica for second-most, and have yet to pick up a point on the road thus far. Furthermore, all six of their points have come at home, where they enjoyed victory only once in five tries. There aren’t many positives and should the bottom fall out, the possibility of finishing last is in play. Pessimistic it may all sound, but it’s where El Salvador have put themselves in, staring down a brutal stretch of games to its conclusion.
The three-game gauntlet that can eliminate El Salvador:
Against the USMNT, the challenge is an almighty one. But it’s not just what’ll happen on Thursday night, but what comes afterwards. La Selecta will travel to arch-rival Honduras on Sunday, with both teams likely as the bottom two in the table. Los Catrachos have yet to win a game, and will rely on Hernan Gomez to spark a rally after sacking Fabian Coito. The two countries shared the points in a scoreless draw in the second game of qualifying. You would be forgiven for watching the NFL Conference Championship games instead of this.
The last game of this window welcomes the visit of Canada, the unbeaten leaders of the pack. Surprisingly, Canada have yet to win on their travels, but can correct that with their voyage to Honduras Thursday. Again, it is an enormous task to stop, let alone contain the most entertaining team in the region who are flying and showing the rest of the world that they are to be taken seriously.
As a fellow Salvadorian, this World Cup Qualifying cycle hasn’t been pretty. The level of play has seen more will than skill, and a clear separation between the contenders and pretenders. Their last game saw them take an early lead against Panama before letting it slip away in a 2-1 defeat. Also, this squad hasn’t won a game – friendly or competitive – since October 7 against Panama at home. Seven defeats later and we are here, likely to see El Salvador eliminated from World Cup Qualification by the end of January, if not next month.
No longer one of the feel-good stories of the last Gold Cup, the past few months have served as a sobering reminder that La Selecta are a case of simply not being good enough. The numbers tell the tale, and the play on the field amplifies it. Only six games remain, from now until the end of March – another tough game at Mexico to finish. Time will quickly tell the fight El Salvador will have on its hands, and the fight they’ll put up.