USMNT Report: Ticket to Brazil in Sight

USA picks up a vital win over Honduras, which puts the Yanks closer to Brazil
by Herb Scribner   |   Thursday, June 20, 2013

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

SANDY, Utah – The United States Men’s National Team started this batch of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying games looking for some positive results.

And that’s exactly what the Americans got, winning all 3 of their CONCACAF WCQs, including Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

The wins might not have been glorious or breathtaking, but they are results which push the US closer to the protest-laden Brazil.

HONDURAS HIGHLIGHTS: Planted in the middle of the hot and dry Salt Lake Valley, the United States kicked off against Honduras with furious pace. Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and the entire attacking third put serious pressure on the visiting Hondurans, but nothing found netting.

Fouls plagued the 1st half, as the raucous crowd of Rio Tinto Stadium shouted at and scorned referee Enrico Wijngaarde for his continued calls in favor of Honduras. The visiting side had a solid chance at goal by Andy Najar towards stoppage time, but goalkeeper Tim Howard stood strong and silenced the MLS player’s attempt.

More chances came for the US in the 2nd half, including one from Brad Evans, who headed a swinging free kick cross by Graham Zusi towards goal. Zusi pressured more and provided more attempts, and one would prove crucial.

The Sporting KC player slipped the ball to Fabian Johnson on the left side of the penalty box. Johnson, quicker than a blink, relayed the ball to a surging Jozy Altidore, who buried his 4th goal in as many matches to secure the US a 1-0 win.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann admitted that beating Honduras was no easy feat.

“It was a difficult game. We expected them to play very defensively, to be nine or 10 guys behind the ball to make all the spaces really tight,” he said. “It was difficult to play through their wall, basically, but we found ways and we told them at halftime to keep pushing, to raise a little bit the tempo even more, to find Jozy more, to find Clint [Dempsey] more, to find those little gaps that they were leaving open.”

Altidore’s recent stretch of goals was also highlighted by Klinsmann.

“We are very happy for Jozy,” Klinsmann said. “We always told him from a coaching perspective that it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of adjustment, it takes the right moment to be there, it takes a hunger.”

Altidore said little about himself, praising the US for its effort the past 3 weeks.

“I think for everybody, the results speak for themselves,” he said. “I think everybody was so comfortable with each other. I mean just from the back, less long balls. Everybody tried to play more controlled balls. We tried to find a solution and that was huge because it gave us the goal.”

Klinsmann said his team’s chemistry is building and will be ready for the road ahead.

“Every game is a new game to start,” he said. “We’re always going to talk about the same principles but I think we see here a group that is really sticking together and therefore tonight really deserves a big compliment.”

ANALYSIS: The latest round of WCQs is over, and now the US looks forward to the final stretch this fall that’ll determine whether America will be represented in the World Cup.

While it’s exciting for US fans to realize their team has just about punched its ticket, the reality is a little grimmer. The Americans, despite earning results, are trudging their way through these games and barely coming out with victories. Much of what is accomplished by Klinsmann’s team is done on pure luck and happenstance. Little is constructed or created.

It’s true the US was in command against Honduras possession-wise, just as it should have been. But the Yanks failed to finish the ball and pile on insurance during several stretches. The backline, which is always a discussion for debate, was pulled thin on several occasions by Honduras. Had it not been for Howard’s extraordinary ability in goal, Honduras might have drawn level.

But a win’s a win. It’s not a victory the Spains, Brazils or Italys of the world would revel in, nor is it one those teams would ever allow, but it adds another tally to the win column and gets the United States closer to Brazil.

Now Americans can focus their attention to the 2013 Gold Cup, which kicks off on July 9 for the US in a match against Belize. Klinsmann has yet to announce the official squad for the event – only a preliminary list was released – but it could mark the full return of both Carlos Bocanegra and Landon Donovan to the American squad.

But how will Donovan fit into this new and winning lineup? Given the success of Zusi, who has filled in for Donovan during his absence and done wonders in that role, it’d make sense for Klinsmann to move the LA Galaxy designated player to the center of the pitch and create a more attacking front for the United States.

Jermaine Jones has done very little for the US except rack up yellow cards and disturb the flow of play, doing both of those on Tuesday night against Honduras. Michael Bradley is a fine defensive midfielder – most of his passes are into negative space and he holds the ball calmly. He can manage the position on his own, and doesn’t need someone behind him other than the defensive line.

Klinsmann might do well to tweak the midfield (replace Jones for Donovan and put Donovan forward) for the Gold Cup, especially since the lineup will likely have some new faces.

Depth isn’t too much of an issue for the United States. Klinsmann should take some chances and experiment with the depth chart for the upcoming CONCACAF competition. We may see Jack McInerney, a wondrous striker for the Philadelphia Union, don the red, white and blue, too, which could only be positive for the attacking third.

It’s good that Altidore has found his form. He’s done his best in the center of the 18-yard-box, where he searches for crosses and attempts to get on the end of plays. At times against Honduras he drifted to the wings, where he was very useless. His strike is deadly from inside the box, and that’s where he needs to stay.

A lot of positives have come this recent patch of games, save for the drubbing and abysmal 4-2 loss given by the hands of Belgium. But with a win over Germany’s B team and 3 CONCACAF qualifying wins, the United States can raise its head and soak in the celebratory pride its fans are awarding it – but only for a moment.

These CONCACAF results shouldn’t fool you – the Americans are still a ways off from developing a style or form capable of making a surge through the World Cup. They’ve done enough to get through qualifying, but it looks, at least at this point, that it’ll be too little come summer 2014.

NEXT UP: July 5 – Friendly: United States vs. Guatemala, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego. 11 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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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.