Byron Alvarado's second skin is the crest of El Salvador tattooed across his heart. Byron was born in Los Angeles, but his father is from San Miguel. His homeland follows him wherever he goes, he states proudly, before hurrying into Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. That night, August 21, 2021, El Salvador held a friendly match with Costa Rica in a stadium filled to the brim with Salvadorans.
La Barra 503, a fan group from Houston, and Bichos Unidos, from Dallas, travel thousands of miles around the United States by bus to scream from the stands during La Selecta's matches. “Some of us are undocumented and we run the risk of traveling to border cities to support. All out of love for our country,” says one fan who asked not to be identified.
Salvadoran centerback Miguel Lemus narrowly skirts the slide tackle of Costa Rican winger Jewison Bennette. The match ended in a sleepy nil-nil tie.
Norma Zelaya, 37, was born in the southeastern department of Usulután and moved to the United States in 1988, when she was five. She lives in Santa Ana, California. She says that going to El Salvador's games “is the best” because the players bring along a piece of their land every time they play in her city. L.A. County sheriffs patrolled the stadium parking lot during the friendly match against Costa Rica.
Hugo Pérez was born in the northeastern department of Morazán and manages La Selecta, which he never played for during his career on the pitch. He played for the United States in two Olympic Games and the 1994 World Cup. Decades later, he is a member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and an idol in two countries.
César and Ana Roldán migrated in the 80s. Soccer both unites and divides their home in Pico Rivera in east L.A. County. Cristian and Alex, their sons, are teammates on Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders F.C., but play against each other in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Alex suits up for El Salvador, and Cristian for the United States.
Giovanni Pérez at Ozzie's Diner along the highway in Bells Garden, California. His work as a truck driver supports his family of four children, among them La Selecta forward Joshua Pérez. Giovanni, the brother of manager Hugo Pérez, grew up in the heart of Barrio 18 turf in Los Angeles, and went on to play for Club Deportivo FAS in El Salvador. He retired from soccer in 1994.
The Alguera Mercado family at their home in San José, California. Edgar Alguera moved to the United States without papers in 1994, but he and his wife gained Temporary Protective Status (TPS) after the 2001 earthquake. A former soccer player in El Salvador, he now owns a construction contracting company and is the personal trainer of his son Damián (far right), who at just 17 snagged a spot as goalkeeper with La Selecta.
After 48 years in the United States, Carlos Zavaleta, father of centerback Eriq Zavaleta, returned to El Salvador to watch his son play for La Selecta. The next day he visited his old home in Santa Ana where, to his shock, he found his uncle Héctor Armando Sánchez, 91, who he no longer remembered. “This is another country to me,” he said.
Desireé Ramírez, 47, with her daughter Gisselle Calvillo, 17, at their home in Lancaster, California. Desirée migrated in the 80s at just 6 years old. She crossed the border undocumented with her mother and grew up in Los Angeles. Now she manages a school. Her son Erick, born in the United States, plays for La Selecta. “I'm conscious of my position in this country relative to other migrants. My children aren't Mexican or Salvadoran. They're American children of a Mexican father and Salvadoran mother,” she says.
Mario Zúniga fled the Salvadoran Civil War. His parents sent him to the United States out of fear that the Army or guerrilla forces would recruit him. He's now an aircraft mechanic. His daughter Stephanie Zúniga, 25, is part of the women's national team in El Salvador, has played for the Brazilian club Cruzeiro de Brasil, and now suits up in Poland's Women's First Division. The walls of the family's home in Pinole, in the San Francisco Bay Area, tell the tale of Stephanie's academic and sporting achievements.
Amando Moreno greets his mother and grandmother outside the Salvadoran Soccer Federation facilities before La Selecta's match against the United States on September 2, 2021. Sonia juggles the team's schedule with running her gardening business in New Jersey. Grandmother Ana María, middle, migrated to the United States in 1989 and briefly escaped back to Atiquizaya, Ahuachapán in 2003 to baptize Amando. “That's it. Now we've given you energy and all will go will in the game,” they tell Amando after taking the picture.
Alex Roldán enters Cuscatlán Stadium in San Salvador to compete against the United States in La Selecta's first match in the last World Cup qualifying phase, on September 21, 2021. Fans greet him and his teammates with raucous applause.
Cristian Roldán arrives at the stadium 20 minutes after his brother. Fans lob insults at him and the other U.S. players: “Cristian, fucking racist,” yelled one Salvadoran fan when Roldán stepped off the bus.
Salvadoran winger Wilma Torres mingles with Fans in Los Angeles after the friendly with Costa Rica August 21, 2021. Players sporting La Selecta's jersey are national heroes for Salvadorans in the United States, regardless of the results. In the background is a flag with the face of Mauricio Cienfuegos, retired for more than two decades, who converted Major League Soccer club L.A. Galaxy into an idol for the Salvadoran diaspora.
Damián Alguera practices at Oak Grove High School in San José, California on August 24, 2021. His father, Edgar Alguera, played keeper in El Salvador's top league in the 80s. Damián debuted with the country's top squad on September 24, 2021 in a friendly against Guatemala.
Fans meet at In-N-Out Burger in Carson, California, near the stadium where La Selecta played against Costa Rica. It's the only business open at 12:30 in the morning and Salvadorans packed the place like they did the stadium just hours before.
*Translated by Roman Gressier