Concacaf Champions League

Meet Gerson Mayen: The SoCal-born Salvadoran looking to take down the Seattle Sounders

Concacaf Champions League
Santa Tecla
Santa Tecla vs Seattle Sounders
Seattle Sounders
The El Salvador international was born and raised in Los Angeles and wants to use the CCL as a launching pad back into Major League Soccer
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Gerson Mayen didn't realize how good he had it.

The Los Angeles native made a dozen appearances for Chivas USA in 2009 and added another four in the next two seasons for the ill-fated MLS club. After bouncing around in the lower divisions, the midfielder headed for El Salvador.

Though he was born to Salvadoran parents, the United States always had been Mayen's home. Now with Santa Tecla, which faces the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 match on Thursday, Mayen would love to use the international stage to return to the U.S.

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"My experience in El Salvador, a lot of people think it’s really dangerous but honestly my experience down there has been great. They’ve been treating me well," Mayen told Goal. "I don’t take anything for granted. When I was in MLS, sometimes they don’t know what they have. When I was back in MLS, I didn’t know what I had until reality hit once I went back to El Salvador. Now, I just have to perform well and hope I get seen again."

He didn't always have it good, though, even in the United States. Mayen grew up in South Central LA and in a 2017 interview recalled a kickaround being interrupted by gang members who wanted to bother and scare the soccer players.

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Mayen also has struggled to lock down a place at a big club in the region. He's back at Santa Tecla after a tournament with Cafetaleros de Tapachula in Mexico's second division, where he alternated between a starting and substitute role. Santa Tecla are thrilled to have him, though. The club is just 11 years old but has established itself as one of the most ambitious clubs in Central America by signing both known players like former Uruguay international Sebastian "El Loco" Abreu, who scored 13 goals in 2016 before leaving in the transfer window, and spotting young Salvadoran talent like defenders Juan Barahona and Roberto Dominguez. Even without Abreu, the club was able to win the spring championship as well, its first bicampeonato and a triumph in which Mayen played a big part.

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The 29-year-old now is wearing the captain's armband and looking to lead a team that has talented players but lacks seasoning.

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"It’s a young team, but we also have players who have a big future. I think the tournament can help us," Mayen said. "We’re hoping to give the fans a good performance in the CONCACAF Champions League. We want to win a game, maybe it’ll be a really tight contest, but we showed (in a friendly against FC Dallas) that we can compete.

"We need to improve on a lot of things. I’m not saying it was a great match for us, sometimes we have more possession but there are a lot of young players still lacking international experience and we’re hoping that it’ll be a little easier against Seattle with those players now having a taste of playing an MLS team."

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Mayen knows the international game well, not only boasting his MLS spell on his resume but also representing the El Salvador national team. He made his debut in the 2013 Copa Centroamericana and has gone on to win 29 caps for La Selecta.

He started playing for the national team just before 14 players were banned for life for manipulating matches and has been part of an effort to redeem the name of El Salvador on the international stage. It's been easier said than done, though.

Mayen and his teammates came forward before a 2016 World Cup qualifier in Canada to say that members of the team once again had been approached and bribed to manipulate matches but declined the offer and wanted to clear the air.

The team currently is in turmoil once again, with the Salvadoran federation bidding farewell to manager Eduardo Lara because it could not pay his salary. Reports emerged this week that organized fan groups of Salvadorans in the United States offered to pay Lara's salary should they be allowed to control the accounts. The federation declined. The 'barras' now are planning to boycott any friendly matches the national team is playing in the U.S.

Mayen said players try to block those things out but admitted it can have an affect on performance when things start to add up.

"I think there’s always something going down in El Salvador. The federation, honestly, is a disaster. Right now we’re having problems since we don’t have a coach. I mean, I think the coach that was down there was doing a great job," Mayen said. 

"We didn’t go to the semis (of the Gold Cup) because we played against the U.S. and honestly the U.S. has good players, really quality players. I think they had to give the coach a chance and now, I mean, I’m just concentrating on what I have to do. I don’t think about all those things just because you can lose concentration."

There are no such issues with Santa Tecla for now, with Mayen saying the front office is the best in El Salvador and makes sure players are getting paid on time. That allows Merson and his teammates to focus on matches like Thursday's CCL showdown. 

Mayen does a bit of everything in the midfield for Santa Tecla but is at his best with the ball at his feet looking for teammates like Brazilian forward Ricardinho. He'll need to be at his best for Santa Tecla to put up a fight against the Sounders - and hopefully for the SoCal native to catch the eye of an MLS technical director.

"I always have hope. It’s hard to get back into a MLS team," he said. "I’ve had agents, but they’d always try to send me to a USL team. I’m not really looking forward to doing that.

"Now, I have to take a chance. In this tournament, there maybe will be scouts. You just have to perform well to be seen."