SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Against a backdrop of carnival frenzy, hysterical support, trumpets, beer, Drakkar Noir and swampy heat, the opening game of the Hexagonal offered Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. men’s national team a physical, hard-running challenge the coach claimed he had longed for.
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If Klinsmann believed it was the perfect test for his players, it was one they proceeded to fail. The hard-running, offense-thirsty Hondurans richly deserved their 2-1 victory that may leave U.S. fans scratching their heads in search of lessons learned as their sluggish team were downed amid scenes of joyous bedlam in San Pedro. Here are four immediate reactions to the game:
1. Klinsmann's few good men starting to emerge -- and they were … not so good
Credit Klinsmann. He is not afraid to mix things up. Up front, the U.S. set up to counterattack, and the pace of Eddie Johnson was preferred to the hard work and off-the-ball movement of Herculez Gomez. Johnson was able to use his speed in patches but was largely frustrated before being replaced by Sacha Kljestan in the 59th minute.
Defensively, few expected the raw talent of Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez to be risked in tandem, but the U.S. coach showed he values form over loyalty in picking the inexperienced duo over veteran Carlos Bocanegra as the anchor of the back line. With an average age of just 24½, Cameron and Gonzalez were caught out of position on several occasions, only to be saved by an offside call or the careless finishing of Jerry Bengtson. Their luck ultimately ran out in the 79th minute when Cameron and Tim Howard miscommunicated and Bengtson scored the winning goal.
2. You cannot exhale in the Hex
With their experimental lineup taking the field amidst an often-hysterical atmosphere, it was critical for the U.S. to withstand the early pressure. As the Estadio Olimpico terraces shook, the U.S. were able to staunch the flow. And even though they were initially uncertain in possession, the Americans even took the lead as Jermaine Jones floated a ball over an overcommitted Honduras defense to leave Clint Dempsey with the easiest of finishes.
Ahead of the game, Klinsmann had underlined the importance of focus and concentration. Despite that, the lead lasted just four minutes. A corner kick was inadequately cleared, and once the ball was turned back into the box by Maynor Figueroa, Juan Carlos Garcia never doubted his abilities, unleashing an overhead kick of beautiful violence. The American defenders were turned into mere spectators as the stadium exploded in rapture. It was a goal worthy of the explosion of rice and garbage that followed.
3. In need of leaders
Throughout the game, Michael Bradley appeared strangely heavy-legged. Goal aside, Dempsey seemed anything but a man who had taken well to Klinsmann’s challenge that he should “reach the highest level” and “confirm it, every year." With the young defensive line clearly toiling, the U.S. demonstrated a leadership deficit on the field. In 2012, U.S. fans were infatuated with Timmy Chandler’s absence. Now that the German-American is cap-tied to the U.S., expect Landon Donovan’s ongoing sabbatical to become the object of their next obsession.
4. Honduras is a proper footballing nation
Drive around San Pedro and football can be seen on vacant lots all over the city. This is a proper football town and the victory will delight the nation long into the night. Honduras came at the U.S. with the fury of the Hound in "Game of Thrones." Teasing and taunting their opposition, they swung the ball from flank to flank, with Roger Espinoza particularly influential and Houston’s Oscar Boniek García showing hints of cunning.
Roger Bennett is a columnist for ESPN FC and, with Michael Davies, is one of Grantland's "Men In Blazers." Follow him on Twitter @rogbennett.