MIAMI, Florida – This Friday at 7:00 PM ET, Concacaf will be airing a re-broadcast of two matches from 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League Qualifying: Montserrat vs. El Salvador and Haiti vs. Cuba. The matches can be seen on Concacaf’s YouTube and Facebook pages, plus the Concacaf App.
Since the inception of the Concacaf Nations League, El Salvador has played in 10 matches and in goal for every single one has been Henry Hernandez. The veteran GK helped the Cuscatlecos finish ninth in CNL Qualifying before a strong first-place finish in Group B of League B.
Yet if there has been a defining game for Hernandez and this resilient El Salvador team in recent years, it was the aforementioned encounter on the island of Montserrat in which El Salvador took home the full three points in dramatic fashion with a 2-1 win thanks to Oscar Ceren’s late winner.
“We had two or three great chances at the start of the game to score, which would have changed the panorama of things, but then on a counterattack they scored a goal against us, so things then got even tougher,” said Hernandez in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
“But we tried to stay calm and we continued getting looks and we finally managed to pull level. The pressure of not scoring was starting to get to us though, despite having so many chances, and it made for a dramatic ending. We launched a counterattack down the left wing and right before the end line Jaime Alas crossed a ball and Oscar Ceren got free from his marker and scored,” recalled Hernandez.
The result served was one of the first examples of the rise of Caribbean teams throughout the region thanks to Concacaf’s Nations League initiative.
“Everyone expected us to beat them badly and win with authority, but we’ve seen that the Caribbean islands are not easy to beat. The games with them are much more competitive. Playing against the islands has changed a lot. This new format allows them to have competition and to try to improve,” said Hernandez.
El Salvador followed up that opening win at Montserrat with a 3-0 win over Barbados, followed by a 1-0 defeat at Bermuda, setting the stage for a moment-of-truth home clash with Jamaica on the final week of CNLQ.
“There is always pressure with El Salvador but the pressure was really high before the Jamaica game. We were going through a tough moment as a national team both on and off the field, we were going through a rebuilding process and so the pressure was mounting because of the bad result [against Bermuda],” said Hernandez.
“The Jamaica game was the toughest one because we had the obligation to win it. It had been a while since we had beaten Jamaica in El Salvador, so all of those things contributed to a game with a lot of pressure. I personally consider us a very mentally strong team because we have gone through a lot, and in the end, we managed to get it done. We played a great game. It was one of our best, especially in defense. We were very solid in attack and thank God we got the goals that got us the win to get the Gold Cup place and finish in the top 10 of CNLQ,” said Hernandez.
That momentum carried into the 2019-20 CNL in which finished with a 5W-0D-1L record while outscoring opponents 10-1.
“We are a team that tries to stay as organized as possible, we always try to maintain that solidity in the back and I think that has gone very well for us. Sometimes playing like that isn’t well seen because it’s not a great spectacle, but it is so important to have a very good defensive foundation and that generates confidence for us to go out and get results and lately it has gone well,” said Hernandez.
The defining moment for Hernandez and El Salvador during the CNL came on matchday five at home against Montserrat. After struggling all night to find the back of the net, Juan Carlos Portillo struck in the 91’ to earn El Salvador a 1-0 win that had major implications.
“There was massive pressure to win that match. Everyone expected us to win big and the past big results against Caribbean teams makes everyone think that every match against a Caribbean side will be like that, so the demands are high. The reality is something else though.
“In that game, when the goal came, I exploded with joy and I celebrated it with euphoria because we had so much at stake: we were playing for promotion to League A, playing for first place in our group and qualification for the  Gold Cup. In the end, it was a spectacular night,” concluded Hernandez.