Toronto FC defender Eriq Zavaleta is looking into playing internationally for El Salvador.
The 24-year-old from Indiana, whose father Carlos represented the Central American country currently ranked 114th in the world, has spoken to the El Salvador coach and says they are interested in his services.
“It’s something I told him I’m willing to explore,” Zavaleta said after practice Saturday. “I don’t currently have an El Salvadorean passport but that process has begun … They have made it clear there is a camp in March and that they want to bring me into that camp if the paperwork is done.”
Zavaleta was part of U.S. Soccer’s under-17 residency program and played in the 2009 U-17 World Cup. He was also part of the American under-20 team pool.
“I’ll communicate with them, out of respect for them and how much they gave to my career thus far,” he said of U.S. Soccer. “But like I told the (El Salvador) coach I’m willing to go into a camp and explore the opportunity and then see what things are like there.”
Carlos Zavaleta was born in El Salvador, moving to the U.S. where he played collegiate soccer at UCLA and professionally in the American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League before taking up coaching.
“This is something I’ve been thinking for a few years,” said Eriq. “They’ve actually been interested in me, contacted me for a good number of years now and have called me into camps over the past few couple of years. And it’s been almost a different coach every time.
“So it feels good to being noticed, that I can play at the international level.”
Should Zavaleta play for El Salvador, he will be following in the footsteps of American-born teammate Steven Beitashour who plays for Iran, his parents’ homeland.
“I’m 24, going to be 25 this year. There’s a lot of good young centre backs in the U.S. group,” Zavaleta said. “I thought maybe that there was a chance at the (U.S.) January camp this year for me. There obviously wasn’t.
“I think with continued progress there will be, hopefully, some interest from the U.S. But again your career’s not for ever and if I can play international football now, then that’s better.”
“Beitashour’s a great example,” he added. “Someone that didn’t make that decision until 27 and ended up playing in a World Cup. It ended up being a great thing for his career.”
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, who is also Zavaleta’s uncle, said he supports his defender’s desire to play internationally.
“For us it’s tough because we might be losing another guy to some of these important events. But I wouldn’t say don’t do it because of that,” said Vanney, a former U.S. international who as a teenager was coached by Zavaleta Sr.
TFC already expects to lose players to this summer’s Gold Cup though Canada, the U.S. and Panama. MLS will take a break during the group stage of the CONCACAF championship.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press