The Washington Post

Gold Cup in Baltimore: USA vs. El Salvador

Among the masses, ES fans from Manassas. (By Steven Goff -- The Washington Post)
Among the masses, ES fans from Manassas. (By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

For the U.S. national team, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is a secondary pursuit featuring many secondary players. It’s an important tournament, a potential pathway to the FIFA Confederations Cup, but lacks the bearing of World Cup qualifying.

For El Salvador, this is the World Cup. La Selecta will not be in Brazil next summer. Or, in all likelihood, Russia in 2018 and Qatar four years later. Once qualifying inevitably ends, ES supporters must invest all efforts and emotions into the Gold Cup, the region’s biennial championship. Their team has never reached the semifinals in the tournament’s 22-year history, and ES enters today’s quarters against the United States in Baltimore as a definitive underdog.

But M&T Bank Stadium will look, feel and sound like Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador — tens of thousands of immigrants and Salvadoran-Americans streaming into Charm City from the Washington suburbs and from the northeast population centers. Some groups arrived from Houston.

The U.S. team’s experience of playing “away” at home is nothing new. In games managed by the USSF, particularly qualifiers, the effect has been minimized. Playing in small arenas — in Columbus and Commerce City, Kansas City and Sandy — allows the federation to control ticket flow (U.S. registered supporters, American Outlaws, local MLS season-ticket holders).

Seattle was a rare large-capacity destination for a home qualifier, but with the Sounders’ league-best fan base turning out and a lightly followed opponent in Panama, the Emerald City provided one of the largest pro-U.S. crowds against a CONCACAF opponent in recent memory.

The Gold Cup, however, is a CONCACAF event. The priority is ticket revenue — from any source. The United States almost always hosts the tournament. With ample stadium options and a diverse ticket-buying audience, it should always be here. The home-field advantage is then softened by crowd demographics. Such as today in Baltimore. And, if Mexico and the United States meet in the final, next Sunday in Chicago.

It’s an international tournament. Mixed crowds make for an international setting. This is a good thing.

Today’s schedule in Baltimore:

United States vs. El Salvador, 4 p.m. ET (Fox main channel, Univision, foxsoccer2go.com, univisiondeportes.com)

Honduras vs. Costa Rica, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer, Univision, foxsoccer2go.com, univisiondeportes.com)

The other semifinal pairing is set: Mexico vs. Panama on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium. Today’s winners will also meet Wednesday in the Dallas suburbs as part of a doubleheader.

USA-ES lineups and subs to come …

USA: Rimando; Parkhurst, Besler, Goodson, Beasley; Corona, Beckerman, Diskerud, Torres; Donovan, Wondolowski. Subs: S. Johnson, Hamid, Beltran, Orozco, Castillo, Shea, Bedoya, Holden, Bruin, Gordon, E. Johnson.

ES: Portillo; Garcia, Turcios, Henriquez, Posadas; Ceren, Menjivar, Romero, A. Flores; Blanco, Zelaya. Subs: Carillo, Villalobos, Purdy, Granadino, Larin, Santamaria, Bonilla, Mayen, O. Flores, Renderos, Corea, Burgos.

Referee: Enrico Wijngaarde (Suriname).

Your pregame, in-game and postgame thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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