Andres Flores (right): “We need to show our fans to get better and improve. The best times are coming.” Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Andres Flores knows El Salvador will be in for a challenge during the CONCACAF Gold Cup next month.
He hopes his two Cosmos teammates, fellow midfielder Richard Menjivar and forward Irvin Herrera, will be up to the task in the biennial competition.
Los Cuscatlecos are in Group C, which includes the 2015 finalists — defending champion Mexico and runner-up Jamaica. And their most challenging group match figures to be the opener against tournament favorite Mexico at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego June 9.
“We’re going to have the hardest, toughest game first,” Flores said “It’s a big opportunity for us to start on the right foot. Mexico is one of the favorites, but we know that if we do well and we get a good result we’re going to get a lot of confidence. We’re going to play with confidence. We’re going to play the other two games with better opportunities.”
In the other two group encounter, El Salvador will face Curacao in Denver July 13 and the Reggae Boyz in San Antonio July 16.
The top two teams from each of the three groups will book places in the quarterfinals, plus two third-place finishers with the highest point totals.
The Salvadorans have reached the knockout round four times in their nine Gold Cup appearances.
Because they have been eliminated from contention for the 2018 World Cup, the tournament is the highest level in which the Central American side will compete this year.
“The Gold Cup is the most important tournament for the national team,” Flores said. “We don’t have any other important games now. It’s very important because we need to show our fans to get better and improve. The best times are coming. We need to go step by step, game by game.”
Flores, who has captained El Salvador in the past, was gratified by the call-up, adding that he felt he and his compatriots deserved it as well.
“We’re happy to be receive the call-up because we know we’ve been working very hard with the team in every training and every game,” he said. “We’ve been pushing each other to be in a good level. It is the reward to all the hard work.”
The threesome will miss the rest of the North American Soccer League fall season. The team has a July 4 home encounter against Indy Eleven July 4 and two road matches — at Indy July 8 and at FC Edmonton July 15.
They were scheduled to report to training camp in El Salvador Monday.
The third-place Cosmos (5-3-5, 20 points) were eliminated from contention for the North American Soccer League spring title and an automatic place in the playoffs by their 2-1 road loss at Miami FC (9-1-3, 30) Saturday night. New York still can book one of the three remaining spots by capturing the fall crown or finishing among the top four teams in total points.
“It hasn’t been easy for us because of all what happened after the last season,” Flores said. “We won the championship and then we received the bad news that the team was going to fold. So, it wasn’t easy with the group. It took us a long to really [rebuild]. … Now we’ve had to rebuild the group to get some confidence game after game.
“Even though we’ve had ups and downs, the last few games we’ve done very good,” he added prior the Miami FC match. “We have improved a lot and we confident with that.”
The 26-year-old Flores has seen more playing time this season, so he has been able to get into a rhythm.
“It has been good for me because I had a lot of opportunities to play,” he said. “I almost played every game this year so I’m very happy with that.”
Flores has played the second most minutes on the team (1,081), trailing only defender Ryan Richter. He has scored once and assisted twice over 12 starts and 13 appearances.
“It has been great for me because of that,” he said. “Last year was kind of tough. After two or three games maybe I played good, but then I had to go to the bench. This year has been different. I’m enjoying it and trying to put a lot of effort and try to grow and help the team.”
For the next several weeks, Flores will be trying to boost Los Cuscatlecos into a high Gold Cup orbit.