CHICAGO - Love it or hate it, Concacaf is where we play. So, nothing would make me happier to see somebody, anybody, step up. Concacaf needs to be stronger
Am I the only one?
In the lead up to the tournament, one of the players I was looking forward to seeing in person was Salvadorian youngster, Rodolfo Zelaya. Prior to the Gold Cup, he led his local unit, Alianza, to the league title. Once the tournament started, he had a few glimmers vs. Mexico, and then scored one of the goals of the tournament so far against Costa Rica. That goal almost stood to become the first real shock result of the tournament.
And on a cool afternoon in Chicago (at least by my June standards), Cuba was completely over-matched by the 22 year old Zelaya, who had a two goals and two assists in the 6-1 win. It was the most goals they had ever scored in a Gold Cup match. They needed every one of them. A heavy scoreline made their goal differential more attractive, and now they will play cheerleader to see if the other teams can give them a boost into the quarterfinals.
But it wasn’t just the goals and assists: he anticipates both his teammates’ and his opponents’ movements very well. He also has the best free kick in Concacaf. Zelaya is a good player who deserves a chance to prove himself on a bigger stage, be it MLS, Mexico or elsewhere. And it may happen sooner than later. A Salvadorian journalist told me that some MLS teams are hot to make a deal for him.
Now before I get the anointing oil out, I do realize that he did what he did against Cuba, a team that gave up 16 goals in their three presentations. The Cubans were kept in complete isolation, there lodging never disclosed, and they only appeared when they had the obligation. And they only lost one player to defection, so does that mean that their Gold Cup was a success? Somehow, they are the 6th best team in Concacaf right now.
El Salvador seems to building something from the foundation that Carlos de los Cobos started to build in the last World Cup cycle. Zelaya, who was named Man of the Match, is great building block. Concacaf needs players like Rodolfo Zelaya. If he develops his talent, along with the other youngsters on the squad, the Cuscatlan could become an even tougher place to play.