LOS ANGELES – World Cup veteran 'keeper Noel Valladares made two crucial saves in a wild finish as Honduras defeated El Salvador 4-3 on penalty kicks Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to win the exhibition Copa Independencia.
A 90th-minute penalty kick by El Salvador’s Rodolfo Zelaya allowed regulation to finish 2-2, but superior penalty-taking by Honduras gave the Catrachos the victory in front of around 15,000 blue-and-white-clad fans.
A pair of saves by Valladares during the shootout gave an opportunity for Jorge Claros to deliver Honduras the victory in the fifth round of the tiebreaker, and he slotted home against El Salvador 'keeper Dagoberto Portillo.
Two MLS players – Chicago Fire defender Deris Umanzor and Chivas USA midfielder Osael Romero – started the match for El Salvador. Umanzor went the distance and assisted on the Salvadorans’ first goal, and Romero lasted 76 minutes for La Selecta.
Honduras believed they were up for good in the 86th minute, when Roger Rojas fired in a beautiful, howling goal from distance that was too much for Portillo.
But El Salvador added to the drama in the final minute when Zelaya was brought down in the box by Honduran forward Johnny Palacios. Zelaya stepped up to the spot and coolly put one past Valladares.
La Selecta opened the scoring in the 42nd minute, when Umanzor cut through the Honduran defense and sent in a cross that Zelaya put in the back of the Catrachos’ net.
Honduras equalized in the 58th minute, when Oscar Bonieck García fired in a shot from about 23 yards out that beat Portillo to the top right corner.
The match was the debut for both head coaches: Juan de Dios Castillo of Honduras, who took over for Reinaldo Rueda after the World Cup, and for El Salvador’s José Luis Rugamas, who inherited the side from current Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos.
With the new cycle underway, each coach brought in a number of new players. It was the Honduran side that was most in flux, with just five members from the World Cup side in the roster.
The Salvadorans also brought in a number of youngsters who may feature in the drive for Brazil 2014. One new player was Los Angeles Galaxy youth player Alan Rovira, who was in the Salvadoran 18, but did not feature for La Selecta.
El Salvador will next take on Guatemala at RFK Stadium in Washington on Tuesday, while Honduras travel to Montreal to face Canada at Stade Saputo.