By Paul Kennedy
The Salvadoran federation (Fesfut) announced late Wednesday night it had provisionally suspended 22 players for 30 days as it probed match-fixing charges centering around four national team games.
They include a 2-1 loss to the USA in February 2010 that was strange in that La Selecta held off the USA for most of the game -- and even took the lead -- but gave the game away in stoppage time on a goal scored by Sacha Kljestan that followed some very dubious work by La Selecta defense.
SA Match Report
U.S. Soccer Video Highlights
USA-El Salvador was not part of the regular FIFA calendar, but U.S. Soccer scheduled the game against La Selecta in Tampa as part of its preparations for the 2010 World Cup -- Bob Bradley's last chance to look at MLS players on the fringe before he had to pick his 23-player squad for the World Cup in South Africa.
All but one player, Clarence Goodson, was playing for an MLS club at the time, and just three players, Jonathan Bornstein, Robbie Findley and Goodson, went on to make the World Cup squad.
If the fix was in on the part of one or more Salvadoran players, the USA sure made it hard as it struggled to put away its chances. The USA finished with an 18-3 edge in shots but trailed in the game when a giveaway by Brad Evans allowed Rudis Corrales to put El Salvador ahead in the 59th minute.
Goalie Miguel Montesmade 11 saves, many of them of the spectacular variety to hold off the USA, until the 75th minute when Brian Ching equalized.
Ching's goal -- a close-range header off a Heath Pearce cross -- glanced off Montes' glove into the goal, but was nothing like Kljestan's goal that came after defender Marvin Gonzalez allowed Kljestan to steal Montes' questionable pass from the back, lay the ball off to Ching and break in on goal and score after getting a return pass.
This was the first paragraph of the game report by SA's Ridge Mahoney:
"What can you say about a game in which a goalkeeper makes several outstanding saves, but gifts the other team both of its goals?"
And this is how John Harkes, the color commentator on the ESPN broadcast, described the play:
"Montes looks like he just gives up ... He just stops in his tracks ... He's already falling down."
Both Montes and Gonzalez were among the 22 players who have been suspended. Three other starters -- including captain Ramon Sanchez, then with the San Jose Earthquakes -- along with one sub and three unused subs from the Tampa game were suspended. Neither Corrales nor the other Salvadoran forward, former U.S. U-20 Arturo Alvarez, was suspended.
Reports of the probe began to surface last month during the Gold Cup with El Salvador captain Victor Turcios telling ESPN Deportes that La Selecta was "implicated in match-fixing" without indicating the game or games.
Former Salvadoran national team coach, Mexican Juan de Dios Castillo, told ESPN's E:60 Deportes around the same time of his suspicions about match-fixing and the knowledge of Fesfut leaders about what was going on.
Castillo said the Fesfut told him not to pick Jose Mardoqueo Henriquez because of suspicions about his role in match-fixing. Henriquez, one of the unused subs in the U.S. game, was recalled for the 2013 Gold Cup.
The other games Fesfut president Carlos Mendez Cabezas said were being investigated were a friendly against D.C. United in July 2010 (1-0 D.C. United win), a 2011 Gold Cup match against Mexico (5-0 Mexico win) and 2012 friendly against Paraguay (4-1 Paraguay win).
Raids were conducted at the homes of 11 players on Thursday as Salvadoran attorney general conducts the investigation. Concacaf described the suspensions "as a provisional disciplinary measure in order to provide the best environment to conduct an in-depth investigation on alleged match manipulation incidents." The investigation will also examine El Salvador's three matches at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup in Turkey -- its first appearance ever at the FIFA tournament.
FIFA can move to make the suspensions of all the players apply worldwide. None of the players currently play in MLS, though four are former MLS players -- Christian Castillo, Eliseo Quintanilla, Osael Romero and Sanchez -- and another player, Dennis Alas, played in the USL Second Division (then a third level league).Rodolfo Zelaya, one of the stars of the 2013 Gold Cup, was targeted by MLS clubs before the summer transfer window closed two weeks ago.
El Salvador did not qualify for the Hexagonal, so it has no more competitive matches scheduled for the remainder of the year.
El Salvador 22:
Luis Alonso Anaya
Jose Miguel Granadino
Carlos Romeo Monteangudo
Jose Alfredo Pacheco
Rodrigo Alejandro Martinez
Jose Mardoqueo Henriquez