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Recap and Reaction: USMNT 1–0 Honduras

On a very warm evening in front of a mostly-muted home crowd in Sandy, Utah, the U.S. Men’s National Team defeated Honduras, 1–0, to take their tally in Hexagonal qualifying to 13 points. Honduras posed a stiffer challenge than many expected, but in the end, the red-hot Jozy Altidore came up with the vital goal and the U.S. can start buying sunscreen for Brazil.

First half

The first half was relatively dull, with few moments of excitement for either side, a result that could only be described as a win for Honduras. Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup was altered as expected, with Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi returning to the side, and Fabian Johnson sliding back into defense. Dealing with many absences of their own, the Honduras game plan was clear from the opening whistle: frustrate the U.S. with physical play, be difficult to break down when the U.S. had the ball, and force turnovers to create scoring opportunities. Such a plan was not a surprise, but the U.S. seemed logy in the heat, and struggled to play fast enough to get behind the obdurate Honduran defense.

In the 7th minute, the first real chance came when Fabian Johnson, getting high and wide, put in a dangerous cross, which was cleared off the toes of Clint Dempsey inside the six-yard box. On the resulting corner, Dempsey found himself free for a header, but put it just wide.

A theme of the first half would be the poor fouls given up by the U.S. In the 10th minute, a bad pass by Omar Gonzalez gave Roger Espinoza a free run at the U.S. box, forcing Jermaine Jones to take him down and earn a yellow card. Luckily, the free kick was poor. The U.S. was dominating possession, but Honduras was more committed in the tackle, winning fifty-fifty balls and frustrating the U.S. players with their persistence and physicality.

In the 17th, a good move from the U.S. gave Fabian Johnson another crossing opportunity. His flighted ball found Eddie Johnson in the box, but EJ’s first-time shot was well saved. Then, in the 18th, a U.S. corner was cleared out to Michael Bradley, wide on the right. His left-footed cross into the box found Dempsey open, but Deuce whiffed on the header.

The game was slow, and chippy, with niggly fouls. In the 27th, Jozy Altidore got a talking to for giving in to frustration and fouling a Honduran defender who was playing him too closely.

The U.S. was looking slow and uninspired, with long passes going astray and passing moves getting broken up by Honduran fouls.

In the 41st, Emilio Izzaguirre got free for a powerful long-range shot, which went wide. The chance didn’t trouble Tim Howard, but the shot was a warning. Honduras was happy to give up possession to the U.S., but could be dangerous when on the ball.

The U.S. closed the half on a sour note, with Matt Besler getting dispossessed by Andy Najar. After picking off a poorly-judged pass, Najar ran in on goal with supporting attackers, leaving Gonzalez unable to leave his post and challenge him fully. Driving into the box, Najar unleashed a powerful shot across goal, that Howard did well to parry.

Second half

The U.S. started the second half with more urgency, but only just, with Honduras continuing to harry and hassle. After ten minutes though, the extra effort by the U.S. began to pay dividends. Jermaine Jones earned a series of free kicks in Honduras’s half. In the 55th minute, Zusi took one of those kicks and sent in an enticing cross. Brad Evans was there to meet it but put his header straight at the keeper.

In the 60th minute, the U.S. looked to have scored, as Altidore took a feed from Dempsey into the box and finished across the keeper, but it was called back for offsides.

In the 62nd, Eddie Johnson drove into the box and was either taken down or dived, but the ref gave neither. In the 63rd, it was Zusi’s turn to drive into the box. Racing to the endline, his cross hit the keeper before deflecting off the post and back into play. After Eddie Johnson flicked it up into the air, Altidore got a head to the falling ball, but his header was saved. Dempsey then put in another header, but his was blocked, by Wilson Palacios’ hand, unseen by the ref.

In the 70th, another Zusi cross found Dempsey at the back post, whose header was again saved. The ball rolled invitingly out to Michael Bradley, but his shot blazed inches over the bar. The U.S. was finally generating chances, but as opportunity after opportunity went begging, it began to look like “one of those nights.”

But then, in the 73rd, Dempsey fed a ball to Zusi on the edge of the Honduras box. Instead of taking a touch, Zusi allowed the ball to continue on to the overlapping Fabian Johnson. Johnson pulled the ball back for Altidore, who calmly finished, and became the first sixth U.S. player to score in four consecutive games.

The relief in the stadium was palpable, and the goal invigorated the U.S. team. Honduras, while continuing to pose the occasional question of the defense—Howard, in particular, was forced to claim or punch several shots and crosses—did not have another gear. The U.S., sensing the moment, tightened up their play, and calmly played out the final ten minutes of regular time and four minutes added on.

U.S. verdict

Honduras makes it hard: This was a different kind of test than the Panama or Jamaica games. While the U.S. looked a touch sluggish, the nature of the match had as much to do with the quality and effort of Honduras as it did with the U.S. being a little off.

Another clean sheet: The defense was wayward in its passing at times, but with another clean sheet, the U.S. has given up a total of one goal in its last five non-friendly matches. That is a significant improvement and confirms Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to move away from Carlos Bocanegra and find a new center back pairing.

Jozy Altidore making history: From going two years without scoring for his country to scoring in four consecutive games is a turnaround like no other. He’s become the forward the U.S. has always needed, at the best possible time.

9 from 9: Coming into this cycle of three games, 6 or 7 points would have been considered an excellent return. Getting all 9? That’s impressive. And considering the different ways in which the U.S. has been forced to take those points makes it even more so.

Final thoughts

After six games of the Hexagonal round, the U.S. has 13 points, a combination that has resulted in a trip to the World Cup for every team that has managed it in the past. Costa Rica, host of the U.S.’s next game, in September, lies two points back, at 11. Mexico sits a distant five points back, with 8.

What more can be said except that the U.S. has surpassed all expectations these last six months. From the lowest point in Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure in January, to his best stretch of games and his most effective lineup, this team has been transformed.

The U.S. now needs approximately 3 points from the final four games to qualify for Brazil. (16 points has been the threshold at which CONCACAF teams have qualified, historically.) In fact, it would now be possible for the U.S. to secure its place at next year’s World Cup by beating Mexico on September 10 in Columbus, Ohio.

Is booking your trip to the World Cup at the expense of your fiercest rivals too much to ask?

It might be, but U.S. fans can be content in the knowledge that their team has put itself in the best possible position to make its way to South America next summer.

12 Comments

  1. Great stuff! Did not look like we would be in this position 6 months ago…

  2. I will be driving the Jozy bandwagon! Everyone jump on and I will sell you his jersey and an extortionist markup.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    When I saw Besler get stripped, I thought it was going to be Korea-Iran 2. It was almost the same as the goal earlier in the day in that game!

    There were a lot of moments that reminded me of the Union’s Open Cup loss last week, poor first touches and sloppy giveaways.

    Given the heat and altitude, there was no reason Klinsmann didn’t go to the bench about 15 minutes earlier than he did. Cameron for Jones was a no brainer and Davis should have come in for Eddie Johnson so he and Zusi could have been feeding balls to Altidore and Dempsey from either wing.

    Still, nice to get nine points this month, especially given that September will be the toughest month yet (in San Jose and then facing potentially desperate Mexican team).

  4. This team has finally transformed into reaching its potential because this is the first opportunity for the A squad to have a whole camp together under Klinsmann. Having the Belgium and Germany friendlies to warm up was critical–our defense greatly improved and became much more coherent as a unit through those experiences.
    .
    It’ll be interesting to see if the Gold Cup can help us find some added depth across the squad. We also need a trophy to give us a chance at the Confederations Cup.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      This year’s Gold Cup doesn’t count towards the 2017 Confederations Cup. The winner of the 2015 Gold Cup goes. (That’s why they use the “B” team with guys like Landycakes this time.)

      • I heard about a month ago that the 2015 and 2017 winners would compete for the spot. But maybe I’m wrong…

      • They changed the rules for qualification to the confederations cup. Concacaf will now pit the winner of ’13 againt the winner of ’15 to see who plays in 17.

      • *2013 and 2015

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I stand corrected (although this is a silly idea IMHO since it is the “B” teams playing this year (due to World Cup qualifying) and the “A” teams in 2015.

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