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Men's World Cup qualifications: Canada beats El Salvador 2-0

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's tough to be a soccer fan in El Salvador this morning. The men's national team lost to Canada - 2-nil - last night. And with that, they also lost their chance to qualify for the World Cup. El Salvador doesn't have the same resources as teams from wealthier countries like Canada, but they've put their hopes on a new coach and a crop of players from the U.S. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story from San Salvador.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Salvador. Salvador.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It was a sea of royal blue jerseys in the well-worn Cuscatlan Stadium last night as fans cheered their underdog team. And it was a must-win for second-to-last place El Salvador against No. 1 Canada.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Hopes were high as fans belted out the national anthem. They got even higher as the team kept Canada from scoring well into the second half.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: Fan Roosevelt Saenz, a bank manager, credited the influx of Americans for getting the national team this far in the World Cup qualifying matches. More than a dozen Americans who had at least one parent from El Salvador had recently been recruited to be on the team.

ROOSEVELT SAENZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "All these foreign players brought more energy, more seriousness and more commitment than we've ever seen," says Saenz. But despite the new foreign muscle, El Salvador was ultimately no match for powerhouse Canada. At minute 66, Canada scored and again at minute 93. After the game, El Salvador's head coach, Hugo Perez, told reporters at a press conference it was a tough loss, but he's proud of his young team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUGO PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The way these players conducted themselves, the way they ran, the way they shot and fought - I haven't seen a Salvadoran team play like this in years," he said. Perez came to El Salvador last spring to coach. Although he was born here, he left as a child and played his professional soccer career in the U.S., playing on both the U.S. 1984 Olympic and 1994 World Cup teams. In an interview with NPR before the game, Perez says he came back knowing it would be tough to bring this under-resourced team into the big leagues.

PEREZ: I've always liked challenges. I think we can do something here special if we're patient.

KAHN: Part of his patient plan was to bring U.S. soccer players with ties to El Salvador with him. Seattle Sounder defender Alex Roldan, whose mom is Salvadoran, signed up, even though, he says, he knew it was a long shot to make it to the World Cup this year.

ALEX ROLDAN: Being a smaller country, it's definitely really difficult to turn the tables overnight, but we're slowly getting to where we want to be and chasing what some of the bigger countries are able to do year in and year out.

KAHN: While fans after the game were disappointed by the loss, many hoped the Americans would stay. Yesterday, the players staged a brief work stoppage due to a pay dispute with El Salvador's soccer federation. The matter was resolved before the game started. But 19-year-old fan Gustavo Arce says he hopes there is more support for foreign players on the Salvadoran team.

GUSTAVO ARCE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The truth is, they build up our team, help us so much. And," he says, "that's hopefully how we'll qualify for the next World Cup."

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Salvador.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAY FOR SOUND'S "ONCE ONE BEGINS, THERE ARE ONLY ENDINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.