USMNT Report: Hondurans Vex US in Hex Opener

The USMNT fell 2-1 away to Honduras in its first Hexagonal World Cup Qualifier yesterday afternoon
by Herb Scribner   |   Thursday, February 07, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team will now have to play catch up.

The Americans dropped their first 2013 Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying match, losing 2-1 to Honduras, which came from behind to snag the victory. Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal for the US, while Juan Carlos Garcia and Jerry Bengston scored for the Hondurans.

HONDURAS HIGHLIGHTS: Both sides started off hot with shot attempts. Off a free kick, Oscar Garcia’s attempt from the left side went wide to the right. Three minutes after, Eddie Johnson fed the ball to Dempsey, whose shot went wide.

Honduras had another shot in the 22nd minute from Mario Roberto Martinez, whose shot from 35 yards out went too high to be a serious threat for US goalkeeper Tim Howard. Johnson and Altidore got involved offensively soon after. Johnson’s header went too high, and his cross to Altidore was for naught as his shot was well defended.

The teams continued to trade attempts back and forth until Dempsey, just like he’s done several times in the English Premier League this season, scored off a beautiful chip from Jermaine Jones that glided over the Honduras backline and settled right onto Dempsey’s foot. It was a surprising goal, especially since the US had been outplayed prior to Jones’ chip inside. 

But it wasn’t for too long as Honduras answered back. In the 40th minute, Garcia, surrounded by many players but with space, sent a miracle-bicycle kick in that sailed past Howard.

The Americans tried to keep control as the second half started, but attempts to get in the final third of the pitch were consistently halted by Honduras. Things got dangerous in the 68th minute when Maynor Figueroa’s through-ball to Bengston opened up the US defense. Bengston, whose shot hit the back of the net and left Howard standing clueless, was called offside.

But 11 minutes later, Honduras scored off another US defensive lapse. Bengston split right passed the defense and sailed one in to give the Hondurans a one-goal lead. And despite last minutes efforts from Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez, Honduras held on.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: After the game, Klinsmann was fully aware of the mistakes the US made.

It's not what we wanted,” he said. “We wanted to start with a positive result. We have to fix that right away now against Costa Rica in March. But we knew it would be really difficult. Both teams play on the same field and there are no excuses. When you lose a game there are reasons for it and the reasons today were too many players performed under their level.”

Dempsey, despite scoring a goal, said it was a difficult game because of the heat and weather conditions.

“It was difficult game and we knew it was always going to be tough, especially dealing with the conditions,” he said. “Most of us are playing in Europe and we come here and it's over 90 degrees at a 3:00. Both teams have to deal with those conditions but it's difficult because you can't press and run and have the endurance that you would have in other games. It was frustrating trying to adapt and play but you have to keep going.”

Bradley said there’s still a lot of time for the US to recover before the World Cup.

“It’s not the way we wanted to start but it's a long road,” Bradley said. “Nobody on our end expects to go 10-0-0 and that's the reality. There are six good teams, tough stadiums to play in and tough atmospheres. We have to continue to keep a strong mentality, continue to have the confidence and continue to believe that over ten games our quality will come out and that mentality will ride us through.

ANALYSIS: This is the last thing Klinsmann and his squad wanted.

The US was outplayed by Honduras entirely throughout the game. The Hondurans had about 13% more possession and completely carved up the shaky American defensive line. Even Howard, who has always been a savior in between the posts, was stymied and left clueless by the defensive lapses. He had some impressive saves in the first half, but he certainly seemed to have tired legs in the second.

Conversely, Honduras showed itself to be very composed and energized on the pitch much like former MLS defensive midfield sparkplug and new Wigan man Roger Espinoza. He caused the USA fits at times and seemed to do the job that it took 3 Americans (Bradley-Jones-Williams) defensive midfielders to do.

The Catrachos reacted well despite playing the Americans, who are regarded as the better side. Honduras wasn’t perfect, though, as it couldn’t convert on chances when the defense was stretched wide open.

In typical fashion, the US had chances at the end of the game to climb back. But Gonzalez’s header, as well as Zusi’s attempts into the box, just weren’t enough. The US seemed either like its plan went awry, or its plans were doomed to fail from the start. The heroic heart the Americans usually rely on was undeniably absent, possibly wilted in the 90 degree Honduran humidity.

Dempsey’s early goal keeps him in form and shows the US has a reliable scorer. He nearly had another one in the second half off a beautiful ball from Michael Bradley, who also performed well at times, but not consistent enough for his standards or what the team needed in the middle of the park - creativity. Zusi’s play in the second half brought a few more chances for the US that definitely weren’t going to come from Jones, who Zusi came on for in the 67th minute. Zusi may be a suitable replacement for Landon Donovan – if he gets the starting time and more chances with the ball.

This isn’t a good start for the US by any means, though. Losing is never good to open up qualifying, especially when the Americans have to play three of its first four games on the road. As seen in the Mexico-Jamaica result in Azteca yesterday as well, the CONCACAF teams have been steadily increasing in skill and ability in recent years, which will make it even harder to get these points back.

You could say this US squad had a day to prepare due to late call-ups or that the US has lost matches similar to this – like its 2-1 loss to Jamaica on Sept. 7, 2012. It can also be said that the US can afford one defeat to a team other than Mexico and still very likely qualify for Brazil.

But the bottom line is that if the USMNT is going to be a top contender for the World Cup, it cannot afford to lose games like this. Yes, this is only the first game of Hex qualifying and there’s still time. But when England is ousting Brazil for the first time in 23 years and defending champion Spain is thrashing South American powerhouse Uruguay 3-1. Losing games like this is just not going to cut it, especially not when it’s apparent that Klinsmann’s ambition to raise the playing standard has already given way to practicality. If practicality is not even being productive, what hope can fans cling to?

Now the US is stuck playing catch up and will need to grab 4 points in the next two games to stay on target to qualify without any heavy drama. The Americans, then, will have to beat Costa Rica in Colorado, and later try to seize at least a point from its match with El Tri in Estadio Azteca – where the US, historically, cannot garner points. Luckily for the US, Mexico is also on a downward tilt, having tied Jamaica and being booed by its own fans in Mexico City from what many thought to be a cake walk.

But still, it’s not looking easy. And it certainly won’t be if the US side performs like this in its upcoming matches.

NEXT UP: WCQ – March 22. US vs. Costa Rica, 8 p.m. MT, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo. ESPN/Univision.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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