SANDY, Utah -- Jozy Altidore can't stop scoring, and now the U.S. men's national team is within touching distance of another trip to the World Cup after claiming a 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Honduras.
Altidore slotted home a Fabian Johnson pass in the 73rd minute for his fourth goal in as many games, and the U.S. defense snuffed out every Honduran attack for its fourth shutout in five qualifiers. With the win, the U.S. has 13 points and solidified its hold on first place in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann had predicted a difficult match, and that was precisely what the Americans encountered. With its backline thinned by suspension and injury, Honduras was as organized as it was disciplined, often getting 10 men behind the ball. And for long stretches it looked as though the approach would pay off, as the Americans appeared to lack the necessary guile to unlock the Honduran defense.
But the match was one where the U.S. grew in stature as the game progressed. Graham Zusi and Clint Dempsey in particular stepped up their games in the second half, providing the impetus for a deserved victory.
The lead-up to the match focused mostly on which of Honduras' injured players would suit up, with particular attention paid to Osman Chavez and Oscar Boniek Garcia. As it turned out, neither player made an appearance on a night when Los Catrachos lacked a creative spark.
The match between the two teams last February was notable for the way the Honduran midfield imposed its will, and the early going showed signs of a repeat as Roger Espinoza got the better of Jermaine Jones in some early duels. The Wigan midfielder nutmegged Jones in the sixth minute, leading to a free kick that was poorly taken by Mario Martinez. A bad giveaway by Omar Gonzalez four minutes later resulted in a counter that ended with Jones taking down Espinoza and receiving a yellow card.
The U.S. soon recovered by exploiting spaces out wide and threatened twice inside of a minute. Eddie Johnson's first-time shot from a Fabian Johnson cross forced a sharp save from Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares. Bradley picked out Dempsey a minute later, only for his free header to go wide.
Honduras suffered a blow in the 33rd minute when forward Carlo Costly went down with a lower leg injury and had to be substituted, with Roger Rojas coming on in his place.
Jones began to come into the game more, and his bull-like run in the 34th minute ended with him being felled by Arnold Peralta, who was booked for his troubles.
Yet it was Honduras that finished the half on a high. Emilio Izaguirre whistled a shot just wide of goal in the 41st minute after failing to be closed down by Eddie Johnson. Matt Besler was robbed by Andy Najar four minutes later, but Tim Howard was on hand to parry the ensuing shot wide of goal.
The second half began with the U.S. beginning to force the issue more in attack. Brad Evans could only head Zusi's free kick right at Valladares in the 53rd minute. Ten minutes later a wild goalmouth ensued when Zusi's cross was touched onto the post, and a subsequent header from Dempsey appeared to strike Wilson Palacios in the hand. Dempsey's 70th-minute header was then saved by Valladares only for Bradley's rebound attempt to fly over the bar.
It was beginning to look like one of those nights for the Americans, but three minutes later the U.S. made its long-awaited breakthrough. Dempsey's through ball was dummied superbly by Zusi to an onrushing Fabian Johnson, whose deft centering feed was steered home by Altidore.
Klinsmann brought on Geoff Cameron and Brad Davis for Jones and Zusi, respectively, in the 75th minute, but there was no letup on the U.S. attack. Altidore nearly doubled the U.S. advantage in the 78th minute after being set up by Cameron, but his shot was well-saved by Valladares.
Honduras began to come into the game a bit more, but the U.S. saw out the game to claim an invaluable victory, one that will allow the Americans to finish out its June schedule on a high.
Player ratings: (0-10; 10=highest)
G Tim Howard, 7 -- Was called on to do very little in the opening half, save for a sparkling save from an Andy Najar drive. Handled capably the few times he touched the ball in the latter 45 minutes.
D Fabian Johnson, 8 -- Defended capably and was a terror getting forward. His cross teed up Johnson from the Americans' best chance of the first half, and he timed his run perfectly again to set up Altidore for the game winner.
D Matt Besler, 6.5 -- Performed steadily for long stretches. One of his few mistakes on the night came when he was robbed by Najar to give Honduras its best chance of the first half. But like so many of his teammates, he stepped up in the second half, delivering some vital clearances.
D Omar Gonzalez, 5.5 -- A terrible giveaway gifted Honduras a half chance that ended up with Jones getting booked. His passing remains sketchy, but he was dominant in the air per usual.
D Brad Evans, 6 -- Played things pretty safe, which allowed him to defend capably on the night. He didn't offer much going forward even when he had the chance to get crosses in. Will rue not directing his second-half header either side of Valladares.
M Jermaine Jones, 6 -- Alternated the good with the bad in the early going, but steadied himself, and began to dictate more of the play in the second half.
M Michael Bradley, 7.5 -- His running with the ball created some momentum for the Americans, but struggled to find the range with his long-range passing. The second half saw him raise his game and really dictate the tempo.
M Graham Zusi, 7 -- Had little success in the first half, but really came into the game in second, hitting the post with one crossing attempt, and teeing up Dempsey for another. His dummy helped spring Fabian Johnson down the flank on Altidore's goal.
M Eddie Johnson, 5.5 -- Found success when he tucked inside, but didn't always link up well with his teammates. His first-time shot was well-saved by Valladares.
F Clint Dempsey, 6.5 -- Battled well up top, but the end product was lacking, as were his attempts from set pieces in the opening period. That said, he was much more active in the second half, and it was his pass that released Fabian Johnson for Altidore's goal.
F Jozy Altidore, 7.5 -- Contributed more with his hold-up play than he did with strikes at goal in the first half and linked up well with Dempsey. But as he has all month, finished expertly, and did well to squeeze his shot just inside the post.
M Brad Davis, 6 -- Came in and made an impact, tenaciously chasing down opponents and being aggressive off the dribble.
M Geoff Cameron, 6 -- Picked up where he left off from the Panama game, taking up good positions defensively and connecting on his passes.
M Edgar Castillo, NR -- Late cameo for the Tijuana defender.