El Tri concludes October cycle with tricky away game

El Tri v El Salvador qualifier

“Chaka” Rodríguez (#21) celebrates after scoring the game-winner for El Tri against El Salvador in minute 25 of their July 18 Gold Cup match. (Photo by ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images)

El Tri can remain on top of the Concacaf qualifying table with a road win against El Salvador tonight, a task that is tougher than it might seem.

El Salvador is ranked No. 65 in the FIFA World Rankings but is unbeaten and unscored upon at home through its first three home matches in the Concacaf Octagonal. “La Selecta” held Team USA (ranked No. 10 in the world at the time) to a scoreless draw, next got the same result against Honduras and on Oct. 7 defeated Panama 1-0.

El Tri is currently ranked No. 9 (though it may drop a couple spots after the disappointing draw at home to No. 51 Canada) so a win for “Tata” Martino and the Boys should be forthcoming, right? The two teams tangled at this summer’s Gold Cup with Mexico emerging with a slim 1-0 victory in a group-stage match on July 18.

As such, we should expect a very physical match from El Salvador, with raucous crowd support. It will be up to Canadian referee Drew Fischer to maintain order on the pitch.

‘Tata’ will have to tweak his line-up

Gerardo Martino must select a replacement for defender César Montes who picked up a second yellow card against Honduras on Sunday and must serve a one-game suspension.

“El Cachorro” has looked good in central defense, working well with Néstor Araujo (against Canada) and Héctor Moreno (against Honduras). In addition to Araujo and Moreno (the likely starters), “Tata” has center backs Julio César Domínguez and Johan Vásquez at his disposal.

Right back Jorge Sánchez suffered a muscle strain against Canada last Thursday and will miss his second game in a row. Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez started at right back against Honduras, but it’s possible that “Tata” opts for the veteran “Cata” Domínguez who can play all four positions at the back.

Henry Martín was initially ruled out due to muscle soreness and fatigue – the América striker is fighting fitness issues after a long and busy summer that included helping El Tri Olímpico win bronze in Tokyo. Now it appears that Martín will be available as a sub, but he is unlikely to see game action.

Martino has 26 players available from which to select his 23-man game-day roster (two of the 12 substitutes must be goalies, according to Concacaf rules).

It will be interesting to see what “Tata” does in midfield. Will he stick with Sebastián Córdova alongside Edson Álvarez and Héctor Herrera or will he go conservative and insert Jona dos Santos in place of Córdova who scored the opener against Honduras? Will he use Álvarez and Herrera for a third game in a row, or might he look to Luis Romo or even Andrés Guardado?

Up front, there appears to be little doubt that he will rely on his favored attacking triumvirate of Raúl Jiménez, “Chucky” Lozano and “Tecatito” Corona. There is a growing narrative that El Tri would be better served with Orbelín Pineda in place of “Tecatito,” but “Tata” has stubbornly stuck with his veterans despite sub-par performances from several of his favorites.

El Tri historically dominant

Mexico is 30-1-4 against El Salvador but two of the four setbacks came in World Cup qualifiers in San Salvador (2-1 loss on June 6, 2009, and again by 2-1 on April 4, 1993).

Team Mexico has won the past two qualifiers at the Estadio Cuscatlán, however. Their 3-1 triumph on Sept. 2, 2016, featured a starting line-up that included Guillermo Ochoa in goal, Héctor Moreno, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera and Raúl Jiménez, while Orbelín Pineda watched from the bench. Moreno (52’), Angel Sepúlveda (58’) and Jiménez (73’ PK) got the goals for El Tri.

In the 2014 Hexagonal – on June 12, 2012 – Moreno scored the winner in minute 82. So half of Moreno’s four total goals with El Tri have come at Estadio Cuscatlán.