After only six months coaching El Salvador, first with the U-23s in Olympic qualifying and then with the full national team, former U.S. national team star Hugo Perez reflected on the three games the Selecta played in the Octagonal round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
“We didn’t get what we wanted in terms of the points from the games, but there were a lot of positives,” Perez said. “The way that we played was very important.”
El Salvador, the only Concacaf squad to play two straight home games to open qualifying, was undefeated in both, holding the USA and Honduras to scoreless draws. The team was stout in their defensive play and organized, if not terribly dynamic, in their attacks. Perez featured the same starting lineups in the games El Salvador hosted before switching things up for the team’s away game, a 3-0 loss to Canada.
“We weren’t concentrated enough in the early minutes of the game against Canada,” said Perez. “We made errors that cost us two early goals, within the first 10 minutes. And Canada is a good team.”
Yet Perez predicted that the teams topping the standings at the end of Concacaf World Cup qualifying -- each team has 11 more games -- would be the usual suspects.
“It’s tougher, but the USA and Mexico are the favorites, for the players they have, their history and tradition,” explained Perez. “Everyone else has to fight.”
The top three finishers go to Qatar. The No. 4 team advances to advances to the inter-continental playoffs in June 2022.
El Salvador’s fighting spirit was what Perez was most proud of in the initial trio of games. Though he lamented that the team was unable to score, pointing out that in contrast to the recent good showing for El Salvador in the Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying games are much tougher, he was proud of the overall performances from his players.
“Our intent, what we did with the ball, how we imposed our game plan, how we approached the games, are all positives,” Perez pointed out. “I’m happy to see the progress we’ve made.”
In certain ways, the game against the USA was a high point for El Salvador. In a vibrant stadium atmosphere, La Selecta held their own against the Americans.
Certain connections to the U.S. national team are still strong for Perez. At the game, he greeted federation members, some who were once coworkers and teammates, like U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart and others, including players he once coached, such as Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
However, no interconnection between the squads could be stronger than that of the Roldan brothers, with Cristian playing for the USA and Alex a key defender for La Selecta.
“Alex wasn’t considered for the U.S. national team, although he has the quality for that team,” said Perez. “Personally, [Alex and Cristian] get along well, and their parents have supported both of them. It’s wonderful for us to have Alex. Cristian is part of the U.S. team and that's no problem. It’s a case of them all being professional.”
Professionalism is a quality Perez has emphasized, especially when integrating a number of new players, many of them dual nationals, to El Salvador’s senior team.
“We have to compete for the entire 90 minutes if we’re going to compete in the Octagonal,” Perez emphasized. “There isn’t any easy team. It’s all competitive. With all that we’ve seen, they’re all strong teams. All the teams have interesting players and some players who play in Europe. We have to improve. We have to get more points at home. We have to stay true to the style in which we’re learning to play.”
With a young squad and more qualification slots opening up in Concacaf for the 2026 World Cup, some El Salvador fans have speculated that Perez is perhaps laying the groundwork for the future rather than stressing immediate qualification. The team’s aim, Perez insisted, is to win every match. Up until the final whistle against both Honduras and the USA, Perez believed those games were winnable.
“We should have won our two games at home,” Perex reflected. “They’re both good teams, but that’s what we need to do.”
Perez didn’t seem surprised that the USA bounced back to win against Honduras in its third game after ties against El Salvador and Canada. “The U.S. has an excellent generation right now,” said Perez. “Lots of player talent for the U.S. is in Europe now and that is excellent for the U.S.”
Unlike the USA, which has seen a number of players miss games during Octagonal play due to injury, or in the case of McKennie, team suspension, El Salvador’s roster remained injury-free.
“All of the team left healthy, and they’re back now with their clubs,” Perez said.
El Salvador’s World Cup qualifying campaign continues on Oct. 7, 10 and 13 with games vs. Panama, at Costa Rica and vs. Mexico.
Excellent interview with an incredible professional; as a player, coach, and individual.
Back after Klinsmann was fired, Wooden Ships and I would tout Hugo's being chosen as our next head coach. But JK had made sweeping hirings of European coaches for the USA teams and by then, Hugo was out in the field look for more player candidates for the States.
Hugo certainly fulfilled many qualifications for our USMNT. As I understand it, he was never even called in for an interview.
I wish him all the best with El Salvador. I do find myself wondering how he would handle McKinnie. Sounds to me as if GB is willing to forgive all. Certainly, McKinnie has had 3 different chances to prove he can be trusted. And he has failed again and again and again! His mindset does not work well with the professionalism required to play for the USA. Or for any professional team, for that matter. Not in my book anyway!
We seem to live in an era where accountability is a thing of the past. I'm with you Ginger on Hugo and Weston. Are we weakend with no McKennie? Maybe, maybe not. But, as a former player, coach and General Manager he would have to earn back my trust. And, it probably wouldn't happen during our Qatar run up or even the Cup.
WS: Breaking Covid rules puts the entire team at risk. I would pass on him until the pandemic was over. There is too much at risk.
Good point Bob, wasn't even thinking along that line. I think forfeits are the result if you can't field a team.
McKinnie aside, right when Klinnsman was hired a Mexian-American friend of mine told me, he heard K will be purging latinos. There was only one player with latino roots taken to Brazil in 2014, something like seven German born Americans, and Donovan, who is from So Cal so not at all latino, but yes, latino was displace by German born Green You all know the Hugo story. I was just starting my soccer journey at that time, but I do not forget what my friend told me. Keep it going!
Why is NO One asking how Steffan got Covid, While in "Bubble"???... I think 2 games is enough... We tell these Kids, World Class Athletes, (Who already think they are INDESTRUCTIBLE;) If you Had Covid, and you get Vaccinated, It will "Bounce" Off of you... See Pulisic as Example... Had WuFlu and 1 week after Clearance he is Playing 90 minutes vs Canada, and Would have Played 90 versus Honduras, except for Injury... I'm trying to recall the Name of the World Class Player that Died from WuFlu...You know, .. Oh, Come On, What's his Name.????... ????...???.. Crickets.!!!!... Didn't Happen.!!!!... The only REAL way the World gets Over this is to get to "Natural" HERD IMMUNITY... Man Made Vaccines have Proven they have a "Shelf Life" of about 6 months... All the College Kids have figured it Out... Look at the Packed Stadiums... Funny how there is Little or No information on "Breakthrough" Cases of People who have had SARS Covid-19... Seems like it should be easy to Follow up on...They got all our Positive Test on a List Somewhere... US Tax Dollars paid for ALL those Tests... Anybody know anyone UnVacinnated who has Died from SECOND Bout with WuFlu.???.... How about any Deaths from people who Had Both WuFlu and Vaccination.???.... Sounds like a Nice easy Govt Job; Just go down the Phone List... "Ring, Ring...Ring, Ring... Hello.???... Is this Joe Blow.???... You had Positive Test July 2020; You still Alive.???..Have you had a 2nd Positive Test.???...OK, Thanks, and Have a Nice Life.!!!"... DO The Research.!!!...Follow The Science.!!!... LET McKENNIE Play.!!!... JUST WIN, BABY WIN.!!!