ZACATECOLUCA, El Salvador --- The U.S. and El Salvador never made it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia this year. And while Peru was able to beat Australia, they didn't advance to the knockout stage at the games.
But none of that dampened enthusiasm for a soccer game here, June 27, between those three nations' soldiers and local high school kids.
Amidst a local celebration that involved dancing, music and food, the game was an informal match, with neither team having a name and an assortment of soldiers and kids on each side, irrespective of army, nationality, age and even gender.
The final score was 2-1 with the winning team scoring on a penalty kick.
At the conclusion of the game, the players hugged and shook hands with each other, and looked happy at having played a good game and having had a chance to meet people who are different from themselves in some ways, but similar in many more.
The U.S. and Peruvian soldiers were here because they were participating in the annual Beyond the Horizon exercise lasting May 12 through August 4. The exercise involves about 1,800 U.S. Soldiers and a small contingency of Peruvian soldiers, who make up Combined Joint Task Force Hope.
Their mission includes five medical readiness training exercises and construction of schools and a clinic addition.
Spc. Ivan Espino, a Soldier from 4th Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colorado, said he was impressed by the skill of the high school kids. He plays soccer competitively during his off-duty time.
Espino said he was able to compliment the children personally, since he's fluent in Spanish.
The other three U.S. Soldiers and one U.S. Marine on the two teams weren't fluent but the common language of soccer united them and provided the means of establishing lasting friendships between the nations, he said.
Capt. Frank Sebastian Chavez Vasquez of the Peruvian army, said the game will cement relationships between the nations because the youngsters see that they are all alike in many ways.
Vasquez served with U.S. Soldiers in a humanitarian mission in Haiti in 2015. He said he's here to see how the Americans conduct engineering projects so he can take that information back to Peru to help projects in poor rural districts in Peru.
A couple hundred local people watched the local soccer game between soldiers, including Garcia Moreno, the police inspector for La Paz Department, which includes the city of Zacatecoluca and a large chunk of rural southeastern El Salvador.
Moreno said she's been working with at-risk youth, and believes soccer games like the one played between the soldiers gives those children something productive to do after school.
Kilmer Alfredo, a 15-year-old high school student, said it was the first time he'd met Americans and it was a great experience.
El Salvador army 1st Lt. Keven Alexander Solis Mendez, said more interactions like this between all the armies of the Americas needs to happen to cement relationships in this hemisphere.
A Salvadoran woman attending the game who works at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, said that soccer is a unifier of all people. For security reasons she declined to give her name.
The U.S. Embassy, she said, has been actively encouraging the organization of soccer leagues throughout El Salvador, providing funds for soccer balls, uniforms and transportation to games. That has been going on for about four years now and is reducing gang activity throughout the nation, she said.