Ali Gerba was again the hero for Canada on Tuesday night, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over El Salvador that virtually guarantees the Canadians a berth in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-finals.
The Toronto FC forward scored the winner in the 32nd minute in Columbus, Ohio, quieting the pro-El Salvador crowd.
Canada sits atop Group A with a 2-0 record, and needs only one third-place team in any of the groupings to finish with fewer than six points to advance.
Gerba's goal, his second of the tournament, came off a deflection from Patrice Bernier's one-time volley from outside the box. The opportunity came after El Salvador defender Manuel Salazar unsuccessfully tried to clear a cross, a header that fell to the feet of Bernier.
It was Gerba who scored in Canada's 1-0 victory over Jamaica to open the tournament last Friday. The 27-year-old now has 15 goals in 26 appearances with the national team.
"That's his job," interim coach Stephen Hart said of Gerba. "He scores goals, he gets himself into good position, he makes it hard for defenders.
2009 Gold Cup
"Tonight, he pinned back both central defenders and once again he came up with the goal."
It was a big one, too. Gerba's six career goals at the Gold Cup are a national record, surpassing the record previously held by Carlo Corazzin. Gerba also tied a Canadian record with goals in four straight matches with the national team.
Consistent showing from Canada
Canada opened the game with a patient and balanced attack in the first half, holding the majority of the control. Canadian goalkeeper Greg Sutton had to make only one save in the first half.
El Salvador turned it on in the second, with one of its best opportunities coming in the 54th minute, when Sutton made a two-handed stop on a bending strike from Salvador Coreas.
Canada's best chance to make it 2-0 came early in the second, when Bernier's low strike from inside the box sailed just wide of the left post.
"For us, I thought it was a great performance from start to finish," said Canada's Atiba Hutchinson, who was named man of the match. "We went out and had a plan and stuck with it.
"We're a well-organized soccer team and we got the goal we were looking for. We were very good defensively."
The win was the fourth straight shutout victory for Canada since Hart took over coaching duties on April 17.
"We've come along quicker than I thought because we didn't have a lot of time together," Hart said. "Tonight, was for me, pleasing, because we played more consistently than we did the game before."
Canada opened the tournament with an upset victory over Jamaica, and El Salvador also started off with a stunner, defeating favoured Costa Rica 2-1. Tuesday's meeting marked the first time in 10 years that Canada and El Salvador played one another.
Canada next faces Costa Rica on July 10 in Miami, Fla., to finish round-robin play.
Costa Rica 1 Jamaica 0
In other Group A action Tuesday night, Costa Rica won its first game of the tournament, a 1-0 victory over Jamaica on Celso Borges's goal in the 64th minute.
Borges got under a low crossing pass from Pablo Herrera to put the ball under the arm of Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
Costa Rica is 1-1-0 in Group A.
Jamaica is 0-2 and will have to beat El Salvador on Friday if it is to have any hope of advancing beyond the group stage.
The Jamaican team played a man down after the 35th minute when midfielder Rudolph Austin got a red card for his tackle against Borges.
Jamaica pressed the attack to begin the second half before giving up the winning goal.
Quarter-finals begin July 18.