El Salvador’s Secret Weapon: A Fan and His Computer

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SAN SALVADOR – For over a decade, Hugo Alvarado has scoured the internet for football players who can improve El Salvador’s national teams. He shyly admits, he was pretty good at it.

Working from a home computer in California, he quickly identified dozens of members of the vast Salvadoran diaspora, players with or without Salvadoran-looking names, and locations on the rosters of European professional clubs, MLS academy teams, and American college programs. Then he followed them one by one. Those who expressed an interest in playing for El Salvador have been added to the growing database. Alvarado’s website.

There was always a glitch, though: Alvarado didn’t work for El Salvador’s football federation. It was not authorized to recruit players to national teams. He was just a fan who wanted better teams to be promoted.

“I wanted to see a more competitive national team,” he said this week, more than a decade after starting his project. “That’s why I do what I do.”

aspect final qualifying round There has been a lot of talk about the rebuilding of the USA men’s team, which will kick off in North and Central America this week for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 2017 qualifying failure. But Thursday’s first rival, El Salvador, also has new leaders, a new coach and new bright young talents. And the restructuring it undertakes can be just as extensive.

El Salvador was the first Central American country to qualify for the World Cup in 1970, and the first country to return to the World Cup a second time in 1982. His team has mostly floundered since then, boxed up with little thoughts, big scandals and an inability or unwillingness to modernize. Quietly, everything may be changing.

Last fall, the El Salvador federation hired Diego Henríquez, a former junior international who had played college football in the United States, as its first athletic director. The first person Henriquez recruited was Hugo Pérez, a respected former USA Football player and coach.

Initially, their goal was to focus on filling El Salvador’s youth teams with better players from anywhere they could find it. A former US under-17 player With a Salvadoran father from Indiana. A New York Red Bulls academy product With a Salvadoran mother. A professional qualified to play in four countries in the Netherlands and he was already wearing one of their jerseys. Even Pérez’s nephew, Christian Pulisic’s former US junior soccer teammate, fit the bill.

This kind of open arms strategy isn’t quite unique – Italy, England, Spain and many other countries all have foreign-born players on the pitch – and Pérez appreciates that as much as anyone: He was born in El Salvador, he’s played over 70. times for the United States and has represented the country at the Olympics and World Cup. And he, like almost everyone else in Salvadoran football, had heard of Alvarado’s detective work.

“Bringing talent from different parts of the world could be a plan for any federation,” Henriquez said, noting that the United States has been doing this for a long time and Mexico has more recently offered offers to players born and raised in the Americas. “This is part of restructuring our identity.”

Ambition, though, works best with a plan. Under Pérez and Henríquez, El Salvador takes a holistic approach: top quality training and coaching, as well as improvements in nutrition, sleep and wellness, and an emphasis on “what it means to represent El Salvador, what it means to wear a national team jersey”, a what it means to come to camp and be a professional.”

The early returns were promising: Henríquez and Pérez, who were hired to coach the junior teams, added responsibility for the senior team in April after alarming results that led to a coaching change in an earlier World Cup qualifying round. Shaped around young players and newcomers, El Salvador advanced to the qualifying round of this summer’s major regional championship, the Gold Cup, and even made it to Mexico. a short fright before going out in the quarterfinals.

El Salvador has little illusions about the job ahead in World Cup qualifiers: The region only takes three and a half places from eight-team octagon qualifiers at next year’s tournament, and few expect La Selecta, as El Salvador is known, to claim one. . However, the representation of the region will increase once the World Cup is over. Expanding to 48 teams in the next cycle.

“Our main target is 2026,” Henriquez said. “We’re just getting started and we know it.”

Until then, more new players will be part of the plans, but so will Alvarado. The day he was hired last October, Henriquez told reporters he was open to “anyone who can help” El Salvador’s development. One of his first stops was the man who had a computer at home in California and had a wealth of knowledge of what types of players might be available. In October, Henriquez hired Alvarado As the first full-time scout in federation history.

Henriquez said the plan is to develop Alvarado’s hobby and focus him on finding specific players, not every potential Selecta player. Rather than a vacuum cleaner, it would in essence become a personal shopper, presented with a shopping list of specific needs – for example, complementing an age group’s team or offering options for looking at a particular position or a different role. He and Henriquez are still unsure how much talent might be available.

“I need five Hugo Alvarados in North America,” Henriquez said.

Alvarado’s latest discovery is the kind of prospect they would seek out with 20-year-old midfielder Enrico Dueñas, El Salvador. A veteran and descendant of the Ajax and Vitesse academies suitable to play for four countries – his native Netherlands, but also El Salvador, Finland and Curaçao – Dueñas was discovered by Alvarado through his sister, whom the player later met. I regularly review the list of Dueñas’ Facebook friends.

Open to this approach, Dueñas made his first competitive game for El Salvador at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico in March and was included in Pérez’s first three World Cup qualifying squads.

He arrived in El Salvador for the first time on Sunday.

Uncapped Costa Rican import for Alvarado, Dueñas, and another player he identified long ago Cristian Martinezcreated the kind of buzz he envied when he first created his website.

But they also rekindle memories of how his father spoke about El Salvador’s glory days in 1982 and 1970, before the civil war swept the country’s citizens around the world for safety. Now he’s trying to bring back at least a few of them.

“I strongly believe we have the ability to get a team into the World Cup,” said Alvarado. “And I strongly believe foreign-born Salvadorans can get us there faster.”



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