U.S. faces familiar foe in Honduras
The U.S. national team might not know any team better than Honduras, but no opponent knows the Americans better.
Their last meeting came just two weeks ago, in the Gold Cup group stage, and the teams were in a scoreless tie before Bob Bradley turned to second-half substitutes Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies to kick-start the American offense. They did just that, helping the United States' attack produce two goals on its way to a 2-0 victory.
Feilhaber and Davies both have returned to their European clubs, meaning the U.S. offense will need to turn to new sources of offensive production if Bob Bradley's team is to beat Honduras for a third time, something Bradley knows won't be easy.
"It will be the second time we've played them in this tournament, and it was a very good win for them against Canada," the U.S. coach said. "We know them well, and we know the way they play. They play hard and have a good group of players.
"You can tell in this tournament the group they have has put a lot into it, so we expect a hard game," Bradley said. "In the first game in D.C., we had a good finish to the match after a tough 65 or 70 minutes. That says a lot about their organization and their discipline, and we'd expect another difficult game."
So who will step up for the Americans in the absence of Davies and Feilhaber? Stuart Holden didn't play in the first Honduras match of the tournament, but he has played well during the Gold Cup and has managed to have a hand in at least one goal in every match he's played. (His pass to Kenny Cooper set up the big forward before he was fouled for the winning penalty kick versus Panama.)
|Gold Cup semifinals|
U.S. vs. Honduras
Soldier Field Stadium, Chicago
7 p.m. ET Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Soldier Field Stadium, Chicago
10 p.m. ET
The forward tandem of Brian Ching and Davy Arnaud also will look to build on a good effort against Panama. In the first Haiti match, the U.S. lineup featured Ching essentially playing as a lone forward with Freddy Adu lined up as a second forward. Adu was largely ineffective, as Honduras' defense shut him down and stripped him repeatedly. Arnaud has quietly enjoyed a productive tournament and should provide some pressure on the Honduras back line with his speed, passing ability and long-range shooting.
Ultimately, though, the U.S. team's success against Honduras will be measured by its defense's ability to contain the Catrachos' attack. Containing the forward tandem of Carlos Costly and Walter Martinez will be key, and Chad Marshall and Michael Parkhurst did it well during the teams' first meeting.
Marshall was especially vital in the previous meeting during this tournament. His size and speed neutralized the ever-dangerous Costly and forced Honduras to look elsewhere for opportunities. It remains unclear who will be partnered with Marshall on central defense. Jimmy Conrad looks unlikely to recover in time from the nasty collision against Panama that left him bloodied and concussed. That has led Bradley to call Parkhurst back in from Europe. Parkhurst held his own against Honduras the first time but followed that up with a bad showing versus Haiti. That probably won't stop Bradley from starting Parkhurst instead of Clarence Goodson, with Parkhurst being a better matchup against Honduras' speedy attack.
Perhaps just as important will be the play of Jay Heaps, who stepped in at right back against Panama and played a steady enough match. Memories of his shocker against Haiti still linger, though, and Honduras has Kansas City Wizards midfielder Roger Espinoza working on that side of the field.
The U.S. defense once again will have help from the central-midfield tandem of Kyle Beckerman and Logan Pause, who did well to stifle Panama's playmakers during the quarterfinal. Beckerman, who is enjoying one of the better tournaments of any U.S. player, acknowledges that beating Honduras a second time, especially after needing overtime to eliminate Panama, will be the U.S. team's toughest task to date.
"[The Panama win] definitely took a lot out of us, and I don't think many of us have played an overtime match in a while," Beckerman said. "We're going to have to really recover quick and get right back to preparing for what will be a really tough game against a team looking for revenge.
"They're a talented team, and we'll just try and really get ready for the game this week."
Although USA-Honduras III should be a tight match, it may not be as competitive as the Mexico-Costa Rica semifinal. Both teams have had strong tournaments, and Costa Rica is looking like a team capable of winning the whole tournament, while Mexico has come on strong after a slow start.
Mexico is led by young star Giovani Dos Santos, who has been one of the tournament's best players and who registered a goal and two assists in the quarterfinal victory against Haiti. He has helped pick up the slack for injured forward Carlos Vela, who is expected to return from the leg injury he suffered in the team's opening match of the tournament.
Costa Rica has been led by several of the same standouts who have spearheaded the Ticos' charge into first place in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group. Forward Alvaro Saborio and midfielder Celso Borges have been two of the best players in the tournament and will look to test Mexico's defense. The Costa Rica defense will call on Chicago Fire left back Gonzalo Segares to try to contain Dos Santos if Mexico deploys Dos Santos on the right flank, where he did his damage against Haiti.
Costa Rica still will need to find a way to contain Mexican forward Miguel Sabah, the Gold Cup's scoring leader, with veteran center back Freddy Fernandez likely to get the responsibility.
Ives Galarcep covers the U.S. national team and MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.