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Why Colorado Springs was the surprising next step for El Salvador’s Jairo Henriquez

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/23/23, 11:15AM EDT


Playmaker has developed enthusiastic ex-pat following at Weidner Field after joining fellow La Selecta teammates in league

El Salvador international Jairo Henriquez has been an influential part of the club's squad since his arrival last season, scoring five goals and four assists in 17 appearances. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

When El Salvador international Jairo Henriquez was told by former club CD Águila last June that USL Championship club Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC was interested in acquiring him, it set off wildly different trains of thought.

“I was surprised about the news, and uncertain if this proposal was real or not,” said Henriquez recently, “but, I was very excited.”

The offer was certainly real, and so has Henriquez’s performance since he arrived at Weidner Field last July.

Jumping into the side in the middle of its drive for the postseason last July, he hit the ground running with a goal and assist in his debut against the Charleston Battery, and went on to help the Switchbacks produce the best season in club history with a berth in the Western Conference Final of the USL Championship Playoffs.

His arrival also sparked an influx of new fans for the Switchbacks, with the Sangre Latina supporters group having seen almost a doubling of its number thanks to Henriquez’s presence at the club. Members of the El Salvadoran community from the Woodland Park neighborhood in the city have also become regulars at Weidner Field since his arrival.

It’s all been a bit surprising for the 29-year-old veteran, who’ll again be in action for La Selecta during the current international window as it faces first rival Honduras in an exhibition in Los Angeles on Wednesday night before heading to face the United States Men’s National Team in the final game of the Concacaf Nations League group stage next Monday night.

“I never thought [I would] make an impact to the team like that – even things like growing the supporters’ group,” said Henriquez, who scored his first goal of the 2023 campaign in the Switchbacks’ 2-1 win at El Paso Locomotive FC last week to move to five goals and four assists in 17 appearances overall for the side.

The El Salvadoran ex-pat community that lives in the Colorado Springs region has quickly embraced La Selecta player Jairo Henriquez since he joined the Switchbacks last year. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

The USL Championship has been a useful resource for El Salvador in the past two years, with natives who came to the United States to compete like Miami FC’s Joaquin Rivas being joined by dual-nationals such as Amando Moreno of New Mexico United, Walmer Martinez of Monterey Bay F.C. and Eric Calvillo of El Paso Locomotive FC in making appearances for the side.

Henriquez isn’t the only recent arrival from El Salvador’s top-flight, either. Fellow experienced international Bryan Tamacas having signed this offseason with Oakland Roots SC to compete outside his home country for only the second time.

For Henriquez, who spoke with Rivas, Moreno and Calvillo about what to expect with the Switchbacks before making the move last year, the level of competition and visibility the Championship offers has been good for La Selecta’s players.

“The USL Championship has seen very good development of some Salvadoran players,” he said, “and this league has been the best option for [the Salvadoran] to show our talent as soccer players.”

Going into this week’s Concacaf Nations League contest, La Selecta has booked its place at the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup this summer. If it can upset the odds against the United States, which faces Grenada on Friday night sitting a point behind El Salvador with one game fewer played, then there’s the chance for the side to compete at the Concacaf Nations League Finals as well.

It would mark the first time El Salvador would have defeated the United States since 1992, but with the side having picked up draws in both of its most recent competitive home contests with one of the region’s giants – including a 1-1 draw last June in San Salvador in CNL play – Henriquez and his teammates are eager for the opportunity.

“I feel motivated, because this game lets me show what I have learned with the Switchbacks,” he said. “And we can show one more time, Salvadoran players have the talent to compete. This is an opportunity as a group to start to dream, if we want to be in the finals.”

More than anything, though, this year serves as the start of the country’s drive to return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in two generations. The expansion of the event in 2026 to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada to 48 teams has provided a potential path for El Salvador to reach the event for the first time since 1982. Three automatic berths are available alongside those awarded to the host nations, plus three more berths into the intercontinental playoff that offers a final route into the main draw.

With qualifying from Concacaf set to start 12 months from now, achieving success against the United States and this summer in the Gold Cup is the platform that La Selecta can build on as it looks to return to the biggest sporting event on the planet.

“I think as players we all work very hard to achieve our goal,” said Henriquez. “But this is a sport where you win, or you lose. I think it’s very important for any player to have a competitive mentality, and above all have the ambition and desire to achieve the best result, [the World Cup.]”

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