Mauricio Alfaro (pictured) will lead El Salvador against the USA in a CONCACAF Under-20 Championship playoff on January 24, 2015, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Photo: Mexsport)
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – After his side beat Cuba 2-0 on Thursday in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship to earn a place in the competition’s playoff phase, El Salvador head coach Mauricio Alfaro was clearly relieved.
A loss would have eliminated the Cuscatlecos altogether, so when asked what team he’d prefer to face in the next game, Alfaro was in a lighthearted mood.
“I’d prefer not to play anyone if it was my choice,” the 58-year-old said laughingly. “In fact, I’d prefer that we were already qualified and that we didn’t have to play another match.”
As it turns out, in order for Alfaro and El Salvador (2-2-1, 8 points) to participate in a second straight World Cup, they will have to get past the United States (3-1-1, 10 points) on Saturday at the Montego Bay Sports Complex.
Alfaro, however, is quite familiar with ways to eliminate the U.S. from a competition. At the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, he masterminded the Salvadorans 3-3 draw with the Americans in the last Group A game. That result gave the Central Americans the group title, while also ousting the host nation.
Overall, especially considering that El Salvador found itself in the same group as Mexico (4-1-0, 13 points) in Jamaica, Alfaro was happy to remain in contention for a berth to New Zealand 2015.
“We wanted to get to this point in the tournament and we’ve done it now,” he remarked.
Despite opening with a draw against Guatemala and a loss to Panama, the U.S. has bounced back with three straight victories. In order to progress to the playoff, it needed to avoid defeat against Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday. Bradford Jamieson scored the game’s lone goal in the 78th minute, enough to see his team through.
USA head coach Tab Ramos has expressed mixed emotions about his team’s performances in Jamaica and the Trinidad match served to validate those feelings.
"It was a very difficult match. We knew Trinidad had quite a few good players that we had to be careful with, and they played like it was their last game,” said Ramos. “We’re happy to get the three points. I know in general terms we played poorly compared to the way we’ve been playing. Having said that we took 19 shots which is very positive for us. Unfortunately we just couldn’t cash in. That’s kind of been the story for us in this tournament.”
The U.S. has not lost to El Salvador in a CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in more than 20 years, a trend that Ramos would like to see continue.
“We’ve got to do better for the next game if we’re going to go to the World Cup, that’s for sure,” he finished.