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World Cup qualifying

Mathis strikes in 86th minute and U.S. has key 2-1 road victory over Honduras.

By Robert Wagman

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Wednesday, March 28, 2001) -- The United States men took a major step toward the 2002 World Cup tonight when their injury-riddled side defeated Honduras 2-1, a road match at Estadio Olimpico that many observers thought the Americans would be lucky to tie.

World Cup Qualifying
Team W L T GF GA Pts
United States 2 0 0 4 1 6
Costa Rica 1 0 1 5 2 4
Mexico 1 1 0 4 2 3
Jamaica 1 1 0 1 4 3
Honduras 0 1 1 3 4 1
Trinidad Tobago 0 2 0 0 4 0
Each nation plays 10 games

Wedneday's results
United States 2, Honduras 1
Costa Rica 3, Trinidad & Tobago 0
Sunday's result
Mexico 4, Jamaica 0

Midfielder Clint Mathisí direct kick in the 86th minute -- the U.S.ís second tally from outside the penalty area -- proved to be the difference, sending the Americans (2-0, 6 points, plus-3 goal differential) to the top of CONCACAFís final qualifying standings with two of 10 matches completed. The top three finishers in the six-nation group advance to the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

"To have six points after two games and to beat two very good teams in Mexico and Honduras, we are obviously very pleased," said. U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "But we know it is a 10-game schedule and there is a long way to go . . . This was a very difficult game on the road, to score two goal on the road and to win is a great accomplishment for us. Honduras is a very good team. This was not easy. To get a goal in the last six or seven minutes. Weíre very pleased with the result."

The U.S. registered its first qualifying victory in Central America since September 17, 1989, a span of more than 11 years and eight matches, dating back to a 1-0 triumph victory over El Salvador in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Midfielder Chris Armas set up the decisive set piece with a quick cutback move into the center resulting in him being chopped down a foul that earned Maynor Suazo a yellow card. Mathis bent his boot over a five-man wall and off the fingertips of goalkeeper Noel Valladares into the left corner to make it 2-1.

"I thought I played very poorly for 75 minutes," said Mathis, starting in place of the injured Claudio Reyna. "I thought Bruce was going to take me out for the last 25 minutes, but I got the free kick and I noticed (Valladares) was lined up way to the far post. He was giving me the near post and I was able to get it up over the wall and into the corner. I kept it tight to the post and keeper got a hand on it.

"I think the team was ready for the challenge. We have a lot of depth in our team, and we came down here and got another win. Our players here showed a lot of character. We showed a lot of depth and that is what good teams need to do. I was practicing (yesterday) from the very same spot from which I scored tonight."

The U.S. was without four starters -- Reyna (groin), defender Eddie Pope (toe) and forwards Brian McBride (knee) and Joe-Max Moore (calf). -- and reserve Landon Donovan (broken rib) from February 28ís opening 2-0 decision over Mexico, as well as frequent starting midfielder Ben Olsen, who remains out with an ankle injury.

"This obviously is as good a start as we could have imagined," Arena said. "To come into a situation like this with players missing and winning shows how far we have come in the past year."

Wearing the captainís armband on his 32nd birthday, midfielder Earnie Stewart put the U.S. ahead 1-0 in the 33rd minute when his blast from 35 yards, aimed for the right corner deflected off the back of Jose Clavasquin and looped inside the left post, the redirection leaving a stunned Valladares watching, flat-footed.

"Last night we used the balls they were going to use tonight for the first time and we found out they really take off," Stewart said. "I had a shot early on that bounced off a guy, but I really struck it well. So when I had another chance I just hit it again and it went off someone and into the goal. But I hit it very well. To be captain, to score a goal and to win on the road on your birthday, it doesnít get any better than that."

Honduras tied the match on a long-range shot of its own, a 32-yard bullet from second-half substitute Julio Cesar de Leon that sailed across the face of the goal and rang into the top right corner past an outstretched keeper Brad Friedel in the 59th minute. This ended the Americansí 509-minute World Cup qualifying shutout streak, well short of the team's overall record of 737 minutes.

"It was just a very well struck shot," said Friedel, who made a point-blank save in the first half and was alter helped when the crossbar stopped a deflected shot. "I did see it all the way, but it had a lot of velocity and it curved on me at the end. I got a little bit of a finger on it. But that was that. Some you just canít get."

A negative for the U.S. came in the 90th minute when striker Cobi Jones, who replaced Ante Razov in the 71st minute, was sent off with a red card for his retaliation after Milton Reyes harshly shoved him down from behind.

"We would have been happy with one point, but we never gave up trying to get that second goal and when we got it, we were thrilled," defender Carlos Llamosa said.

United States 2, Honduras 1

Lineups: Honduras - Noel Valladares, Samuel Caballero, Jose Reynaldo Clavasquin (Julio Cesar de Leon 46), Ninrod Medina, Ivan Guerrero, Jose Luis Pineda (Maynor Suazo 79), Christian Santamaria (Jairo Martinez 46), Amado Guevara, Milton Reyes, Carlos Pavon (captain), Milton Nunez. United States - Brad Friedel, David Regis, Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, Steve Cherundolo, Chris Armas, Earnie Stewart (captain), Clint Mathis (Gregg Berhalter 89), Tony Sanneh, Josh Wolff (Chris Albright 67), Ante Razov (Cobi Jones, 71).

United States - Stewart (Mathis) 33.
Honduras - de Leon (Guevara) 59.
United States - Mathis (unassisted) 86.

Shots: Honduras 13, United States 7. Saves: Honduras 3, United States 2. Corner kicks: Honduras 12, United States 5. Fouls: Honduras 10, United States 24. Offside: Honduras 6, United States 3. Yellow card cautions: Honduras - Pineda 78, Suazo 86; United States - Friedel 43, Mathis 59, Razov 64, Llamosa 66. Red card ejection: United States - Jones 90.

Referee: Fredy Burgos (Guatemala). Assistant referee: Erick Alvarez (Guatemala), Arnulfo Gonzalez (Guatemala). Attendance: 46,000 (estimated) at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Weather: 80 degrees, warm, humid.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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