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Global Mar 10, 2012

El Salvador’s Olympic prep takes them through Maryland this weekend

By Roger Gonzalez

To say March is a busy month for El Salvador’s Under-23 national team would be a major understatement.

The Central American squad will be arriving in the United States on Friday, ahead of the 2012 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will take place from March 22nd to April 2. The event’s two finalists will book their place in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London this summer.

Coach Mauricio Alfaro and his men will take on Cuba, Canada and the United States in the group stage of the eight-team competition, which will see Nashville, Tenn., Carson, Calif. and Kansas City, Kan. host games.

El Salvador will tune up for those crucial contests with a friendly against Honduras’ U-23 team in Houston, Texas on March 13. But first, “La Selecta Cuscatleca” will visit the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Md. to do battle with one of the top college teams in the nation.

This Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the Salvadorans will face the University of Maryland, one of NCAA soccer’s perennial powerhouses.

“The team is motivated because they want to play with a team that has the similar qualities to the United States and Canada,” Elias Polio, the event’s promoter, told Potomac Soccer Wire.

“They all play at a professional level in El Salvador and with European clubs.”

Two players, midfielder Andres Flores and forward Dustin Corea, play in Denmark.

The goal is simple for the Salvadorans: “To find the 11 starters that will play the first game in Nashville against Cuba,” Polio said.

“Also to find the players in the best [physical] condition. These friendly games, that is what they are going to get out of it. That is why these friendlies takes place.”

It’s a great opportunity to test themselves ahead of some of the biggest games of their lives. Despite El Salvador being one of the smallest nations in the CONCACAF tournament, Polio believes this team has the talent and desire to make it to the summer games.

“They have to take advantage of friendlies,” Polio said. “In the group, they have a chance. United States and Mexico are favorites, but El Salvador can do it if they put together a good tournament. They are a strong team that has been playing together for a long time. In soccer, anything can happen.”

The SoccerPlex’s Championship Stadium, which holds 3,200 fans, will likely be filled on Sunday with the majority probably in El Salvador’s blue and white. The Central American nation is known for its enormous fan base in the Washington, D.C. region, which routinely turns up to chant and sing in support of their team — in fact, last year the senior team’s Gold Cup match drew a sellout crowd of 45,424 to RFK Stadium in D.C.

While Sunday’s setting will be smaller, the atmosphere will be similarly passionate.

“We hope a lot of fans come,” Polio said. “The stadium is small. We are going to have the capacity to fill the stadium.

“The [Salvadoran] people love the team. They make a lot of noise.”

As of Wednesday, around 1,500 tickets had been sold, with that number expected to climb in the days leading up to the match.

Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased through the SoccerPlex (MDSoccerPlex.org) or at a number of local outlets: Megamarts, La Chiquita Express, Zodiac Express, El Cuscatleco Sports Bar, La Frontera Restaurante, Morazan Grocery and Taca Masabrosa.

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