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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Tom Marshall

Derby Carrillo, El Salvador seeking progress at the Gold Cup

Derby Carrillo has a huge opportunity to help Salvadoran football take a step forward with a win against Curacao.

DENVER, Colorado -- When young Salvadoran players wanting to forge a career in soccer write to La Selecta goalkeeper Derby Carrillo asking for advice, the message they get back is clear.

"Don't let anyone shoot down your dreams," the 29-year-old tells ESPN FC in a Denver hotel ahead of El Salvador's crucial Gold Cup match against Curacao on Thursday. "If you want to do it, it may take some hard work, but you have to do what you love."

Los Angeles native Carrillo's path to international football and playing in Europe for Icelandic club Iþrottabandalag Vestmannaeyja (or IBV) has been particularly challenging.

El SalvadorEl Salvador
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Carrillo was on the brink of looking at an alternative career, after being let go by F.C. New York in 2011. Then former U.S. international Eric Wynalda came knocking and the goalkeeper became part of Cal FC's now legendary U.S. Open Cup run in 2012, in which Carrillo helped the fifth-division club past MLS side Portland Timbers and into the Round of 16.

"We met at a point in my career when I was contemplating whether to keep playing or basically go into the work field," said Carrillo. "[Cal FC] showed me I could still compete against top-level players and I shouldn't be willing to give up the dream."

Within a year, Carrillo had secured a move to Santa Tecla and made his debut for El Salvador. Since then, the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper has established himself with La Selecta, almost joined Seattle Sounders -- before Clint Dempsey came in to take the last roster spot (according to Carrillo) -- become 2015 Clausura champion with Santa Tecla and is now happy with life on the archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar, which has a population of just 4,000.

"A lot of people have seen on social media that Iceland is just absolutely spectacular and it's all true," said Carrillo, who added at some point in his career he would like to play in the United States.

Now Carrillo -- whose mother's native Guatemala also made an approach for his services -- finds himself as part of a generation of Salvadoran players intent on writing new and more positive chapters in the recent history of football in the Central American country, following the match-fixing scandal back in 2013. Fourteen players were banned for life that year, with Carrillo playing in some of the games mentioned.

Salvadoran football has been marred by the match-fixing scandal of 2013 but there were signs of progress against Mexico.

"I'm not going to be playing my career and have someone tarnish it," Carrillo stated. "For the most part, a whole country's illusion is the national team, La Selecta. For these players to be basically taking the piss out of it, it's not cool. The generation that is in right now isn't about that."

Carrillo believes the scandal cost El Salvador two generation of players. Naturally, it is an issue that La Selecta is trying to recover and rebound from.

El Salvador's World Cup dream is over for 2018, but Carrillo and his teammates know this is a new process under Colombian coach Eduardo Lara. La Selecta showed some positives against Mexico last Sunday, taking the game to El Tri and creating chances, but eventually El Salvador seemed to run out of steam and Mexico won 3-1.

Against Curacao, El Salvador pretty much has to win and certainly can't afford to lose. A victory would mean La Selecta take a significant step toward the knockout stages of the Gold Cup and produce some positive headlines surrounding the national team. With Benji Villalobos out injured, Carrillo is likely to start against a Curacao side actually ranked above El Salvador in the FIFA rankings.

"We're fighting for our spot in next round," Carrillo said. "In my opinion Curacao have a very good squad that has been coached very well in previous years by Patrick (Kluivert)."

A victory and passage to the knockout round of the Gold Cup would be a small yet significant step. The longer-term goal, however, is to reach the World Cup and match the generation of Jorge "El Magico" Gonzalez in 1982.

"It's something that everybody holds onto...That's something that us as players want to change," said Carrillo. "It's been a little bit difficult with things that have happened internally. We're trying to change that up and write a new story for the fans because there are generations that haven't seen El Salvador in the World Cup."

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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