GC Daily: Heartbreak in Houston for La Selecta

Your Monday morning, latest news, thoughts, poems, analysis, and quotes from the W Gold CupĀ 

GC Daily: Heartbreak in Houston for La Selecta
The El Salvador players huddle in Houston | Courtesy of La Selecta

Note: Welcome to Gold Cup Daily. A quick snapshot of the tournament's action from the previous day, some extra words on the day's main talking point, and the key details of the next matches.

Sunday's Group C results:
Canada 4-0 Paraguay
El Salvador 0-2 Costa Rica

The Snapshot

Sometimes, you have to put six or seven players in the box. Even when you're already trailing. Defend for your life.

In the grueling world of tournament football, advancing to the knockout rounds is everything. And goal difference can be a defining tiebreaker.

Paraguay head coach Carlos Bona wishes his team could have kept the score down slightly more against Canada. However, having been 4-0 down in the 56th minute, the final result was not a total catastrophe.

"We were hoping to do better, to win, but it was not possible," the Brazilian manager told Squad Depth after the match. "It was a shame we conceded four against us. I'm not happy about it. Two against us, we take it. We put everything into the next game now."

Even with very limited space, Canada briskly took apart Paraguay in under an hour in Sunday's early match. It was another incisive performance, perhaps one of the most exciting we've seen from Bev Priestman's team under her reign.

"It was a really difficult block to break down," the Canada coach remarked. "We had to adjust some things tactically. That [low block] is borderline impossible to get in behind."

Four goals pleased the coach, but in reality, it could have been even more for Canada. A barrage of 26 shots, with 12 on target, saw many chances go begging or force commendable saves from Paraguay's Cristina Recalde.

Les Rouges' free-flowing combination play was attractive on the eye. They maintained their 3-4-3, with a slew of wingers, forwards, and wing-backs all interchanging positions and attacking freely. A concertina.

A third Canada hat-trick for Adriana Leon, who previously banked four goals in a game versus Cuba (2018) and St. Kitts & Nevis (2020); plus a goal on her first international start for the emerging Livy Smith, were standout takeaways for the North Americans. The duo both attempted four shots in the match.

Heartbreak in Houston for La Selecta

We all know the ground can't literally swallow you. But it holds you, props you up, when all feels lost.

It is a tale as old as time. A football team feels the weight of a defeat and, and, as if coordinated, sinks at the sound of the full-time whistle.

On Sunday night, El Salvador players dropped to the Texas grass. They stared hopelessly out of the stadium towards the moon. Into the seats, towards fans, and up to the gantry.

"It's not what we wanted, but it is what it is," La Selecta defender Juana Plata told Squad Depth after the match.

After being consoled by their Costa Rican teammates, they gathered and prayed on the pitch together. After that? Few words were exchanged.

"Not much was said after because I think everyone just needed their space to like process," remarked Plata.

Brenda Ceren climbed over the hoardings and sought out her mother in the crowd. Then, buried her head in the arms of her parent, to be embraced, to sob, and be consoled.

For the second time this week Houston's soccer stadium to the East of the city centre transformed into 'Little El Salvador'.

Of the 5,218 people at the match, a rough estimate would be 90% were clad in blue & white and supporting La Selecta. Many of which were either born in El Salvador or are local Texans with heritage from the country.

Adoration and expectation flowed in almost equal measure.

The partisan crowd tried to will their team to a historic first-ever Concacaf tournament victory. And talisman Ceren did crack the post in the first half. But that was as close as it got.

Still, the noise that erupted when the diminutive forward hit the woodwork will stay with me for a long time. A thrilling uncontrolled release of excitement and frustration.

Bar a small enclave of two dozen rowdy Costa Rican fans, the two golazos from Priscila Chinchilla were greeted by near silence.

Both goals of the brilliantly-taken brace by the currently unattached forward arose from the forward sprinting to get in behind.

The assist, for the first goal, was from Rocky Rodriguez. The Angel City midfielder unlocked El Salvador with a through ball. The highest moment of quality in the match.

"I saw the space, and knew that Priscila (Chinchilla) was going to arrive and she did," explained Rodriguez. The goals were the only two shots Chinchilla had on a night of quality not quantity.

The timing of Chinchilla's goals in particular hurt La Selecta's chance to grow into the game. After conceding after three minutes against Canada, they lasted less than eight on Sunday.

"We gave up an early goal, that really did hurt us. One thing that the coach said going in was: "You can't let them score in the first five or last five of the half or game." And that's something I think we need to improve on, big time," Plata opined.

Playing from behind with, a feverish crowd, meant El Salvador were arguably too direct and rushed. The ball was always going forward with little composure. 53% pass completion compounded a night when Costa Rica were able to control more of the tempo with a lead.

Off the ball, both teams had a choppy night trying to physically unsettle the other. Momentum rarely built.

Tackles flew in early, with 15 fouls in the opening 30 minutes. The match finished with a new W Gold Cup record of 40 (one every 2.5 minutes including injury time).

El Salvador has never beaten Costa Rica in its history, or even earned a draw. Strangely, this was one of the country's best results against a higher-ranking Central American rival. The last meeting between the two ended 7-0.

It was hard to see the positives on the night, though.

Amongst all the disappointment, head coach Eric Acuna did lend perspective as well as condemn his team's performance.

"I could tell you that I should be happy, that the results are getting smaller, and that we are becoming more competitive. But not this time. I didn't like it at all," Acuna fumed.

The gap is closing. This is still a nation on the rise. However, for now, it is the very real sadness of being on the brink of elimination from La Selecta's first W Gold Cup that are in the foreground. Dreams unfulfilled.

Emotion, meaning, drama, great goals, a vibrant crowd. Not the night El Salvador wanted but a beautiful capsule of what football is all about.

Photo credit: Salvador Quijada | ES

NEXT: Mon. 26 Feb. Group A fixtures:
Dominican Rep. v Argentina | 6:00 p.m. ET
Mexico v USA | 9:15 p.m. ET