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U.S. victory over Honduras wasn't pretty, but proved ultimately satisfying.

By Robert Wagman

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Wednesday, March 28, 2001) -- It wasnít pretty, but things could not have turned out better for the United States men. By coming away from hostile territory with a 2-1 CONCACAF qualifying victory over Honduras, the U.S took a major step toward the 2002 World Cup.

With the U.S. depleted with a half dozen regulars sidelined with injuries, the popular thinking was coach Bruce Arena would play for a tie; gaining one point would be a fully satisfactory result for a difficult road match. Arena didnít buy into that philosophy.

"These guys are ready to play," he said last night. "I think weíll win. I think these guys will beat them tomorrow night."

The U.S. demonstrated its depth by beating a determined, talented Honduras playing before 46,000 loyal fans with the rest of the nation watching and praying for a victory.

Midfielders Earnie Stewart and Clint Mathis contributed the goals, both from outside the box, with Mathis netting the decisive 22-yard free kick to make it 2-1 with four minutes remaining

Honduras controlled the play for much of the match, but the U.S. game plan was to allow its opponent space on the wings, but at all costs deny play through the middle. Arena correctly did not believe Honduras could beat the U.S. with crosses.

The U.S. expected Honduras to start aggressively and Arena countered by playing Stewart in a mostly defensive position for most of the first half hour. In several key moments in the first half, Stewart was deep in the U.S. end, actually playing behind defensive midfielder Chris Armas.

The U.S. back four played a terrific match. Newcomer Steve Cherundolo had a few anxious minutes early on, but acquitted himself well. Carlos Llamosa and Jeff Agoos were solid in the middle and, on the left, David Regis continues to show a greater skill level each match he plays.

The front line of Josh Wolff and Ante Razov were overmatched by Honduran defenders and provided no real threat offensively, but both did some good defensive work.

Stewart, goalkeeper Brad Friedel and defender Carlos Llamosa stood out with their outstanding efforts, but in the end, this was a case of a game plan being executed well. While the planís main intent probably was to gain a draw, the victory certainly was twice as sweet.

U.S. player ratings


Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 7.5: Was beaten by a perfect strike, but did everything else that was asked of him. A strong performance.

Defender David Regis - 7: Shows every time out a skill level as good as any on this team. Had some good moments getting into the offense.

Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: Was a little hesitant in the early going and made an occasional error, but chipped in with a satisfactory night and made a case that he probably belongs in the starting lineup.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 6.5: Did about as much as could be expected with with several critical clearances. Clogged the middle, but did make a couple of serious errors.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 7.5: Carlos Pavon, the heart and soul of Honduras, barely got a touch and was not a factor whatsoever. Llamosa demonstrated again he is quite simply a world-class man marker.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 6 Not his best match, but worked tirelessly and made key plays.

Midfielder Tony Sanneh - 6: Seemed more comfortable in the midfield than on defense. His big plays included a sliding tackle in the box that likely saved a goal. Was not much of a presence on offense, but his defensive effort was key.

Midfielder Clint Mathis 5.5: Took a very hard knock in the back in the first half and was clearly slowed much of the night. Was considerably slowed in the second half and seemed ripe to come out, but was up to the task with his game-winning free kick.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 8: Again demonstrated he is the best U.S. player. He raised his game to a new level tonight at both ends of the field, and, as was the case in the second half of last monthís 2-0 shutout of Mexico, showed that when he is on his game, the U.S. is much better.

Forward Ante Razov - 4: Was never a factor in the attack. Could not win balls in the air. His foolish hack job in the 64th minute clearly deserved a red card, not the yellow he received. An expulsion probably would have led to an American loss, a start contrast to the triumphant result.

Forward Josh Wolff - 4.5: No factor at all. His pace was nullified by speedy Honduran defenders. A forgettable performance.


Forward Chris Albright (68th minute for Wolff) - 5: Put in for fresh legs and to win some balls in the air. He ran hard and made a few good plays, but never presented any kind of offensive threat.

Forward Cobi Jones (71st minute for Razov) - 5: No factor. His red card could have hurt, but didnít. Considering the vicious shove from behind he took moments earlier (with no foul called), his response was minimal and the refereeís actions hard to explain. Still, he did not help his cause much.

Defender Greg Berhalter (89th minute for Mathis) - no rating: Helped stem the tide in the final minutes. Made one nice clearance.

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

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