A relatively inexperienced U.S. men’s national team was given a rough introduction to World Cup qualifying, as the Americans failed to make a first-half lead stand up, and ultimately fell to Honduras 2-1.
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Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the 35th minute, latching on to a superb pass from Jermaine Jones to volley past Noel Valladares. But a U.S. team that was under pressure for most of the match conceded the equalizer five minutes later on Juan Carlos Garcia’s stupendous bicycle kick. The U.S. defense bent and finally broke 11 minutes from time, when Jerry Bengtson tapped in Oscar Boniek Garcia’s low centering feed.
Given the home side’s relative dominance in the match, the win was well deserved. As for the U.S., much of the postgame focus will be on why manager Jurgen Klinsmann opted not to start captain Carlos Bocanegra and play Omar Gonzalez instead. All told, the U.S. back line had amassed just eight World Cup qualifying caps. Both Timothy Chandler and Gonzalez were making their first appearances in a qualifier, and their inexperience showed at critical moments.
This was especially true on the ball. The U.S. failed to muster any semblance of composure out of the back, with wild clearances the norm rather than the exception. As a consequence, the U.S ceded much of the initiative to Honduras. That left the Americans soaking up pressure, and while they made some dangerous forays into the final third, usually at the prodding of Michael Bradley and occasionally through Jones, the only question as the second half dragged on was whether the U.S. could hang on for a 1-1 draw.
It didn’t. What appeared to be a communication mix-up between goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Geoff Cameron allowed Garcia to square to Bengtson, who made Gonzalez pay for a lapse in concentration by beating him to the ball and scoring into an empty net.
There is certainly no shame in losing to a Honduras team that is on the rise. But with three of their first four games on the road, already this Hexagonal is taking on a nervous tenor for the Americans.
It will now be six long weeks until the U.S. faces Costa Rica in Denver.
Player ratings: (0-10; 10=highest)
G Tim Howard, 5.5 – Delivered a superb save to deny Mario Martinez in the first half, and couldn’t do anything to stop Garcia’s full bike kick, but he didn’t look to be on the same page as Cameron on Bengtson’s winner.
D Fabian Johnson, 3.5 – Made a key clearance in the first half to prevent a Honduras goal, but otherwise struggled with his defending. Got forward more often in the second half, but there was little end product, save for one pass to Bradley that ended with a deflected shot.
D Geoff Cameron, 4 – Was oftentimes the only player keeping things together in the back, but settled for the long ball too often. Made a halfhearted challenge on Garcia’s goal, and appeared to let up on the winner even though he looked in position to a make a play.
D Omar Gonzales, 4 – Defended capably for most of the afternoon, but failed to track Bengtson on the game winner. His passing in the first half was highly suspect as well. Overall it was a rough World Cup qualifying baptism for the L.A. defender.
D Timothy Chandler, 3 – Looked like he was running in quicksand the entire afternoon, and was easily the weakest link in the back. Was beaten time and again by a succession of Honduran attackers, and didn’t offer up much going forward. Steve Cherundolo, your spot in the lineup is safe.
M Jermaine Jones, 5.5 – A typical Jones performance, in that he mixed good with bad. But there is no denying the quality of his pass to Dempsey for the U.S. goal. The problem was he simply was caught in possession too often.
M Danny Williams, 4 – Another young player who crumbled under the pressure. His passing was suspect, and too often he tried to dribble his way out of trouble. Was among those caught ball-watching on Garcia’s goal.
M Michael Bradley, 6 – The best offensive moves came through the Roma man in the first half, and he jumped into the attack well with some trademark late runs. But he faded down the stretch and his normally reliable set-piece deliveries were off the mark.
F Eddie Johnson, 5.5 – Had some dangerous moments when he got the ball in space, and could be seen tracking back diligently on defense. He nearly provided a glorious assist to Altidore.
F Jozy Altidore, 5 – On a day when service was largely lacking, Altidore played simply, which is something his teammates needed to do more of. He nearly deflected home a wonder goal in the first half, but wasn’t that dangerous otherwise.
F Clint Dempsey, 6 – Took his goal with trademark panache, but was another player who appeared to wilt in the heat, and wasn’t much of a factor down the stretch.
M Maurice Edu, 6 – Provided the U.S. with some much-needed composure by replacing Williams, connecting more of his passes and clogging up the middle.
M Sacha Kljestan, 4 – Failed to have much of an impact after setting up on the left side of midfield, as his deliveries from the wing failed to find their target.
M Graham Zusi, 5 – Gave the U.S. some much-needed energy on defense, but didn’t offer much in attack, with a handball ending one promising sequence.