Stuck on 0 in Honduras
For 40 minutes Jurgen Klinsmann’s game-plan worked, but even then the US looked like it was forever fading into the quicksand that was the spongy turf in San Pedro Sula.
The US set back and defended in numbers, saving its strength against the humidity and a confident Honduran side.
It seemed a smart move as the US looked to hit on the break, but there was no establishment of possession or link play between the lines when the US ventured forward.
On the rare occasion that the US got up the field in the first half, everyone charged into the box meaning there were no players lagging behind to make late breaking run into the space (something at which Michael Bradley is usually so adept).
It all changed gloriously, from a US perspective, in the 36th minute when the US had its first real spell on the ball. The ball moved from side to side as players made their way forward with each pass. Jermaine Jones picked his head up and played a deft ball over the top for Clint Dempsey to volley home first touch with a Dennis Berkempesque finish.
The Hondurans came right back with Juan Carlos Garcia equalizing just four minutes later with an outrageous bicycle kick. To be fair, defending on set pieces is hard, but as the corner shot over everyone’s head the USA was too slow in getting out to defend the second cross. The Red, White, and Blue then let Honduras win another ball in the box before it popped to an open Garcia.
The second half brought some renewed hope as the US came out with a bit more pressure, but normal service was resumed as Honduras began to control the ball with ease.
Without link play between the lines, the US could not hold the ball and even more worryingly, channels and gaps were very apparent among the back four. Honduras were threading balls through said gaps and the US were lucky that two Honduran strikers were offside when the ball found the back of the net just before the hour mark.
Uncle Sam’s charges finally got caught in the 79th minute.
Geoff Cameron hesitated on a through-ball into the box when he saw Tim Howard belatedly come off his line. Instead of hooking the ball away, Cameron was red faced as Howard was beaten by Oscar Boniek Garcia who squared for Jerry Bengtson to tap in the winner.
Omar Gonzalez was also partly to blame for not following Bengston’s run.
All of a sudden a decent strategy became a load of questions. Did Klinsmann employ the right tactics? What about the central defensive partnership of Cameron and Gonzalez? Why didn’t the veteran, Carlos Bocanegra, get the start when Gonzalez is a novice and Cameron now plays in the midfield at Stoke City?
What about the substitutions? They were made very early leaving a final 23 minutes for eight players to slog through to the end on very heavy legs. The substitutions themselves were a bit curious as the US’ fastest man, Eddie Johnson was brought off for Sacha Kljestan, a central playmaker who stayed out on the wing.
When Graham Zusi came on for Jermaine Jones, why didn’t Kljestan move inside when Zusi is a more natural operator on the wing?
Finally this game was SCREAMING for Herculez Gomez to give the USA some hope up top after Jozy Altidore and Dempsey had been marginalized for the majority of the second half.
While 1-1 in very trying circumstances would have been a good result, that calamitous moment on defense changes everything.
The most frustrating aspect for US fans is that we now have to sit on our hands until March 22nd all the while wondering if this is really all we have to give as a footballing nation.