U.S. looks bad, losing lead and qualifying opener to Honduras.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, February 6, 2013) -- The United States men were particularly unimpressive, opening the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying with a 2-1 to host Honduras this afternoon in front of 37,000 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula.
The U.S. did not play well on either end of the field. Offensively, it created few chances, as has been true of any number of efforts so far under coach Jürgen Klinsmann. There was no flow at all and the quick passing attack Klinsmann says he wants was again completely absent.
The one constant in this match was the disorganization of the American defense. To start, injured right Steve Cherundolo did not make the trip, while stalwart central back Carlos Bocanegra stayed on the bench, replaced by young Omar Gonzalez, getting his first U.S. start that mattered.
To make matter worse, two of the American defenders, Geoff Cameron in the middle and Timmy Chandler on the right, normally play midfield for their club teams.
The result was probably predictable. It seemed no one was quite sure whom to mark and as a group, the back-line consistently seemed out of shape.
The U.S took a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute when attacker Clint Dempsey plucked midfielder Jermaine Jones' feed from the air and first-timed it into the net. The advantage lasted four minutes.
Honduras equalized with a thing of beauty: Juan Carlos Garcia's bicycle kick was unstoppable, coming from an effort that would have sent the ball high or wide 99 times out of 100. What led to the tying goal was a series of U.S. back-line mistakes, no one covering the far post on a corner that went long. Then, nobody covered when the ball as it was chested to Garcia, who was not challenged on his scoring attempt.
Honduras' game-winner in the 79th minute was the result of an American comedy of errors. Cameron got tangled up with goalkeeper Tim Howard allowing Oscar Garcia to send a cross into the middle of the box. Gonzalez should have been able to clear the ball, but was slow to react while Honduras striker Jerry Bengston ran by him for an easy finish into an empty net.
In between those two goals, an apparent Honduras goal was waved off when two forwards were correctly ruled offside.
Initially, the U.S. performance seemed to be a contradiction. Klinsmann's lineup was offensive in nature with essentially three strikers up front, but over the first 45 minutes, the Americans went into a defensive shell, getting eight or nine players behind the ball. At times, all three of the big attackers, Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson, tracked back deeply to make defensive stops and were in no position to receive the ball on attack.
The match started in 80-degree heat with 80-percent humidity. It looked as if the U.S. players came out determined to conserve energy and the first half was played at a deadly slow pace. The Americans picked up the pace at the start of the second half with Johnson moving up top to form a pair of attackers and allowing Dempsey to drop back into the midfield where he is more comfortable. But by the hour mark, the heat and humidity looked to be taking a toll and several U.S. players looked spent.
The Americans learned two painful lessons. First, Cherundolo and Bocanegra are needed in the back. Second, the one indispensable U.S. player continues to be the absent Landon Donovan. Without him, there was no coherent offense. Klinsmann's first priority should be to convince Donovan to end his "vacation" ended before the next set of qualifiers at the end of March.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: He tried to organize his defenders. but to little avail. He made two big stops in the first half and certainly can't be blamed for Garcia's spectacular goal. On Honduras' winner, his lack of communication with his defense was obvious, but whose fault it was is unclear..
Defender Fabian Johnson - 5.5: The only U.S. defender who looked like he knew what he was doing. He can be faulted for not getting forward enough, but defensively he was sound.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 4: Maybe, the charitable thing would be to say he played defense like an out-of-position midfielder. Generally, an awful afternoon.
Defender Omar Gonzalez.- 4.5: He won some individual battles, but was clearly at fault numerous times, out of position or out of sync with Cameron.
Defender Timmy Chandler 4.5: The wait is over. After three years of indecision, he is now committed to the U.S. for his international career. Today, he gave the ball up several times in key situations, generally had trouble with Carlos Costly's pace and gave an underwhelming performance as an outside defender. His strength might be as a midfielder.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 5.5: He did well in the defensive midfield, but was one of the Americans who seemed to tire and likely was pulled at the start of the second half because he had no legs left.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: He was the most consistent American, strong on both ends, but at times had little help offensively.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 6: He set up Dempsey to give the U.S. a lead. As usua, he ran all over the field, making plays at both ends. He, too, seemed to run out of gas.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6: Scored the only American goal and was just about his side's only threat.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 4: He might be scoring goals in bunches in the Netherlands, but was simply never in the match.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 4: He looked like he was never quite sure where he was supposed to be, playing high on top or on the wing, able to drop back defensively. He just looked out of place.
Midfielder Maurice Edu (46th minute for Williams) - 5: He was active in the defensive midfield and made some decent plays but, at the same time, when it counted, he was not there to help his defenders.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (59th minute for Johnson) - 4.5: Seemed to be put in to widen the U.S. attack. Had a few good moments, but too few.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (66th minute for Jones) - 4.5: Except for a last-second corner kick, he had no impact on the match.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.