By CARL SETTERLUND
In a show of the league’s ability to pull in top Central American talent, several MLS stars were prominently involved in Wednesday night’s Copa Centroamericana group stage finale.
Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador each picked up victories at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, with Seattle’s Marco Pappa scoring twice to propel the Guatemalans past Honduras, 2-0, in the nightcap of Wednesday’s triple-header.
The victory sends Guatemala to the top of Group A and into the tournament final this Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against Group B winner Costa Rica, which was not in action.
Guatemala hasn’t made the Copa Centroamericana final since 2003 and hasn’t won the tournament since 2001.
FC Dallas forward Blas Perez and LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo both played key roles in Panama’s 2-0 victory over Nicaragua, with Perez scoring the 81st-minute winner and Penedo collecting the clean sheet.
Although the Panamanians picked up the three points, they failed to match Costa Rica’s margin of victory and ended up in the third-place game based on goal differential.
A pair of players with domestic connections helped El Salvador defeat Belize by a 2-0 result. Former San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake attacker Arturo Alvarez scored one the Salvadorian goals, while Rafael Burgos of the NASL’s Minnesota United provided the other.
The Copa Centroamericana serves as a qualifier for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the top four teams — Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador — all clinched their spot.
The shock of the tournament has been the play of Honduras, which played in the 2014 World Cup and has won the Copa Centroamericana three times.
The Hondurans will be fighting for their Gold Cup lives in Saturday’s fifth-place game against Nicaragua. The winner faces the fifth-place team in the Caribbean Cup for a spot in next year’s Gold Cup.
Costa Rica is the favorite this weekend, both based on its recent World Cup exploits and the fact that the Costa Ricans have won seven of the previous 12 iterations of the Copa Centroamericana.
Here’s a list of this weekend’s action (all time listed in EDT):
6 p.m. — Honduras vs. Nicaragua
9 p.m. — Panama vs. El Salvador
12 a.m. — Costa Rica vs. Guatemala
What do you think of Wednesday’s Copa Centroamericana results? What will you be most interested in this Saturday?
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