MIAMI – World Cup qualifying visits to Central American hornets’ nests like San Pedro Sula, Honduras, have always been challenging for the US national team (and the rest of CONCACAF, for that matter).
But Wednesday’s visit to Estadio Olímpico (4 pm ET, beIN Sport) holds another, newer wrinkle for the Yanks that might prove far more testing than draining travel to a hot, hostile environment: a talented, mature Catrachos squad with ambitions of joining the US and Mexico as the region’s elite.
“We give them a lot of respect,” USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told a throng of media after his team’s training session at Florida International University on Monday morning. "I think it’s wonderful to see how they did over the last couple of years, you know, qualifying for the  World Cup in South Africa. And we know them. We did our homework. We know their strengths and weaknesses and it’s a very good team."
“It’s a technically very gifted team, also physical, very tough to play and they grew over the last couple of years,” he added later in his remarks. “They have a bit more confidence – going to a World Cup gives you confidence, having that learning experience.”
Like the US, Honduras’ collective success – including the Olympic team’s head-turning displays at last summer’s London Olympics – has helped many of their players craft moves to prominent overseas clubs, including several, like Seattle Sounders winger Mario Martínez and Sporting KC alum Roger Espinoza, who have made MLS part of their upward progress.
“I think [Honduras] is a confident team right now, coming off of a number of good performances as of late,” said Brad Evans, a teammate of Martínez in Seattle. “They have a number of players playing [in the English] Premier League, playing overseas, and they’re doing extremely well for themselves.”
And while old tendencies towards gamesmanship and underhanded play still linger, the modern incarnation of Los Catrachos seems to have found a rare balance between skill, savvy and physicality which will force the United States to fight on multiple fronts on Wednesday.
“Hard-nosed players, technically decent players,” US striker Herculez Gomez said on Monday when asked for his impressions of the Hondurans. “Theatrics, antics. But they’ve got some very good players – former teammates of mine on there now [like] Roger Espinoza, players like that that have done their time and know what it takes. Really tough players to play against.”
Wednesday’s hosts have moved the kickoff time up to mid-afternoon in an effort to present their guests with as much tropical heat and humidity as possible. And a national holiday has been declared – “Obviously they are not giving it a national holiday in the US yet, we have to do a lot more work to get to that level one day,” cracked Klinsmann – so that the entire nation can watch as their team looks to open the Hexagonal stage with a win.
Gomez believes those factors can be turned to the USA’s advantage with a strong start and intelligent game management.
“Tough conditions. Obviously they’re not ideal, but they’re not ideal for both teams,” he said, noting that Honduras’ growing foreign-based contingent will have to re-adapt in its own right. “We need to get them out of their rhythm. The pressure’s on them. We know that we’ve got a more than capable team heading into this qualifier, so we’re excited.”