Copa Centroamericana: Tuesday storylines

Action from the Copa Centroamericana  match between Honduras (white jersey) and El Salvador on January 15, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – After two matchdays, only first-place Honduras has an unblemished record at the 2017 Copa Centroamericana.  It has rallied twice for a pair of 2-1 wins over Nicaragua and El Salvador, but the road will soon be more difficult.  On Tuesday, the Catrachos are slated to face host Panama in the third game of a tripleheader at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

Here’s the slate of games: 

Tuesday – January 17, 2017

El Salvador v Belize, 4:00 p.m.

Costa Rica v Nicaragua, 6:30 p.m.

Panama v Honduras, 9:00 p.m.

What are some potential storylines heading into Tuesday? gives you some possible storylines… 

Honduras looks to seal Gold Cup berth

Honduras will clinch a berth to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup tonight through a combination of its own win over Panama, and losses by Belize and Nicaragua.  A victory would give the first-place Catrachos nine points from three games, while defeats to fifth-place Belize (1 point) and sixth-place Nicaragua (0 points) won’t leave them with enough points to overcome the three-time champion.  A 3W-0D-0L start in the Copa would be a source of redemption for Honduras, which edged Nicaragua, 1-0, in the match for fifth place two years ago in order to meet (and ultimately overcome) French Guiana in a Gold Cup qualifying playoff for the last spot in the 2015 event.  

Panama has little room for error

Despite extending its Copa Centroamericana unbeaten streak to 16 games (9W-7D-0L) in Sunday’s 2-1 win over last-place Nicaragua, the most difficult part of Panama’s schedule is yet to be played.  The third-place Canaleros (4 points) still have to face first-place Honduras (Tuesday), fourth-place El Salvador (Friday) and second-place Costa Rica (Sunday).  A stumble in any of those games could put the tournament host in a precarious position, especially if Belize (1 point) pulls off an upset along the way.  Prior to conceding against Nicaragua, Panama hadn’t allowed a goal in three straight Copa matches (320 minutes in total).  A return to that stingy defensive form will calm any potential fears.  

El Salvador response

An impressive first half against Honduras on Sunday gave rise to the thought that El Salvador was well along in the process of improvement under new head coach Eduardo Lara.  Forward Rodolfo Zelaya was a dominant figure in the opening 45 minutes, occupying the Honduran defense, firing off shots and giving the Cuscatlecos a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute with his first-ever Copa Centroamericana goal.  Things changed in the 57th minute, when Zelaya was issued a straight red card.  Five minutes later, Rubilio Castillo netted to level the score.  Then, in the 89th minute, El Salvador was reduced to nine players after Alexander Larin’s ejection.  On cue, Castillo struck for the game-winner seconds later.  How will Lara’s side react to missing its pair of Alianza stars?  A win over Belize on Tuesday will go a long way to allaying fears.  A loss, on the other hand, could raise concerns about the Salvadorans’ Gold Cup future.