Dempsey stars in return, his hat trick leads U.S. to qualifying rout of Honduras.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, March 24, 2017) -- The United States men, playing their best match in recent memory, blasted Honduras 6-0 in front of 17,729 tonight in a CONCACAF World Cup final-round quailfier in a rainy and chilly Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
Striker Clint Dempsey found net three times to lead the Americans (1-2-0), who won for the first time in the final round. The U.S. visits Panama Tuesday night
The U.S. (1-2-0, 3 points), in a three-way tie for fourth in the hexagonal, travels to third-place Panama (1-1-1, 4) Tuesday night for a qualifier to be televised at 10 p.m. (ET) by beIN Sports, and Spanish-language Telemundo and NBC Universo.
The key was Dempsey, back from a heart ailment to make his 131st appearance. The veteran Dempsey, playing like his old self, and 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, had as much impact on the match as any player since Landon Donovan at his best. With 55 international goals, Dempsey is two short of Landon Donovan’s U.S. career record of 57.
More remarkable was the one-sided match featured a lineup that was patched together by U.S. coach Bruce Arena. He was missing four, or possibly five starters. Midfielder Fabian Johnson, right back DeAndre Yedlin and forward Bobby Wood were hurt and all would most likely have started. So too would midfielder Jermaine Jones, serving a one-game suspension because of yellow-card accumulation. Likewise, defender/midfielder Timmy Chandler, who might have started, was also serving a one-game suspension. Striker Jordan Morris, who might have replaced Wood in the lineup, could not go because of an ankle injury.
Those absent were hardly missed because of the play of defender Jorge Villafaña, midfielder Sebastian Lletget and then his early replacement Alejandro Bedoya, as well as midfielder Darlington Nagbe. None might have played had Arena had his full roster available, but he didn’t and all represented themselves well.
The U.S. got off to a dream start in the fourth minute when midfielder Christian Pulisic hammered a hard shot at Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escebor, who left a long rebound for Lletget to run unto and rip into the net. This early goal forced Honduras to abandon any idea of laying back and countering. Instead, when Honduras tried to playing a more attacking game, the U.S. punished it often.
One question going into tonight was whether Pulisic was better playing wide or in the middle. That was answered as he played centrally, controlled much of the action, made key passes, resulting in goal, while also scored himself.
The other question was whether Dempsey could go after missing half of last season with his health problems. That was obviously answered with a resounding yes in an effort that left a big smile on his face.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: He was called on to make four saves, only one that was difficult. He controlled his area well and organized his defense with skill as he posted his clean sheet.
Defender Jorge Villafaña - 6: He played well all night, but especially after Andy Najar entered in the second half and repeatedly tried to attack down his side.
Defender John Brooks - 6.5: He was having an exceptional night until he was felled, not by injury but the result of exhaustion from a sinus infection> He was carried of on a stretcher.
Defender Omar Gonzalez 6: He was solid all night with principle responsibility containing Honduran striker Alberth Elis.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: In first half, he was strong as Honduras tried to attack down his flank. He was often able to push forward and contribute on attack.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: Playing deeper than he would have under coach Jürgen Klinsmann, he showed he is more comfortable in a defensive role. Still, he managed to get forward on occasion, including teaming with Alejandro Bedoya for the second U.S. goal, Bradley’s his first since the summer of 2015.
Midfielder Sebastian Lletget - 6: He only lasted 18 minute before a foot injury forced him off. He still managed to score opening American goal, running onto rebound. In the short time on the field, he showed he belonged.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe - 6: Playing on the left side, his best contribution was playing defense in tandem with Bradley. He did push forward well and started several counter-attacks resulting in goals.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic - 8: The best American tonight. Despite being marked most of the time by two Hondurans, he managed to score once, get off a shot that ended up in first U.S. goal and made passes setting up Dempsey twice. He already looks like Landon Donovan at his best.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: Even though he did not score in the rout, he had one of his better recent games, holding the ball up and distributing key passes on several goals, and generally causing problems for Honduran defenders.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 8: On his return from illness, he looked like the Dempsey of 2002 and 2006 as he collected a hat trick with wonderful shots, including a free kick that was a thing of beauty.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (18th minute for Lletget) -- 6: Playing wide right, he played a lot of defense, helping Bradley. He was involved in a second-half goal.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (59th minute for Cameron) - 6: He came on and played defense for final 20 minutes. He did quite well at one point, clearing a ball from in front of his goal with Howard a bit stranded.
Midfielder Tim Ream (77th minute for Brooks) - 6.5: Moments after entering, he made the best clearance of the night by cutting off a quality Honduras cross deep in the box, in front of Howard. He did well for the last 20 minutes.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Christian Pulisic.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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