Olympic Qualifying: Najar heroics not enough for Honduras

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Andy Najar gave shorthanded Honduras a chance. Miguel Ángel Ponce dashed it.

D.C. United’s young right winger cleared Erick Torres’ header off the line in the first extratime period of Monday’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying final. But no one could stop Ponce, Mexico’s American-born left winger, when he buried the game-winner in the 116th minute of Mexico’s 2-1 victory on Monday night.

Playing their second extratime game in three days and down to 10 men after defender Luis Garrido’s sending-off in second-half stoppage time for his second yellow card, Honduras gamely hung in against the team that beat them 3-0 in group play.

But then Ponce got behind the back line to take Javier Cortés’ free kick and fired inside the left post. By the time Wilmer Crisanto was shown his second yellow in the 119th minute, reducing Honduras to nine, it was clear there would be no upset.

With both teams already qualified for London after their semifinal wins on Saturday, pride was the only thing at stake in the title game. Still, a passionate and overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd of 10,501 showed up  at Livestrong Sporting Park and were rewarded with a nail-biter.

The two teams outlined their respective strategies early and stuck to them throughout a scoreless first half.

Mexico worked the flanks, drew fouls in the attacking third and tried to punch the ball inside to forward Alan Pulido, who had a hat trick in the earlier meeting between the two sides.

Honduras neutralized that threat by collapsing into the area, even when Mexico earned a flurry of corners in first-half stoppage time, but were unable to capitalize on any of their counter opportunities.

After the break, though, Honduras came out on the attack — and it quickly paid off for the underdogs.

Alexander López sent a free kick from the right flank into the Mexican box, and Johnny Leverón beat marker Jorge Enríquez and snapped a header past backup goalkeeper José Rodríguez.

The lead stood until the 75th minute, when Pulido and Marco Fabián took advantage of Honduras’ pack-it-in strategy.

With his back to the goal and white jerseys surrounding him, Pulido fed the ball back out to the right of the penalty arc. Fabián took one touch and fired home the equalizer, his second goal in as many games.

Mexico had plenty of chances to win in regulation after that, but all went begging: Ponce shot just left in the 77th minute, Fabián was wide left in the 83rd and Torres hit the crossbar in the 87th.