USA vs. Honduras
Tuesday, June 18, 9 pm ET
Rio Tinto Stadium; Sandy, Utah
Watch on ESPN, UniMas
Live chat on MLSsoccer.com
The US national team seeks to seize a stranglehold on the CONCACAF Hexagonal race on Tuesday as it welcomes a shorthanded Honduras side to Rio Tinto Stadium for its sixth match of the final stage of World Cup qualifying stage.
Already in first place and on a roll after three straight victories against Germany, Jamaica and Panama, the USMNT now has a chance to go on summer break with even more momentum against the vulnerable-looking Catrachos in front of a packed home crowd at Real Salt Lake's atmospheric venue on the Wasatch Front. It's also a chance for revenge against the team that gave the Yanks a miserable start to the current round of World Cup qualifying with a 2-1 win at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula on Feb. 6.
Honduras have experienced an up-and-down campaign since that sensational victory (2-2-1 record) and currently sit in fourth place, which will award a playoff spot against New Zealand at the conclusion the Hex. But at the moment, coach Luis Fernando Suárez and his staff are more concerned with an injury outbreak, not to mention the angry departure of striker Jerry Bengtson from the camp after he lost his starting spot in their last match.
The US enjoy a 12-4-3 all-time advantage over Los Catrachos, including a 4-2-1 mark in World Cup qualifiers, and have lost just one of their last 10 meetings with the Central American nation.
The series has featured some high-profile Honduras victories, however. February's dispiriting loss during a blazing hot afternoon on a national holiday in San Pedro Sula rocked the USMNT camp and raised serious questions about coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his leadership, questions which are only now being answered in earnest via some impressive performances this month.
WATCH: USMNT get ready to host Honduras
Honduras are also the last team to defeat the USA in a home qualifier, having edged the Yanks 3-2 on Sept. 1, 2001, in front of a packed, pro-Catracho crowd at RFK Stadium in Washington. The US have built a 22-0-2 unbeaten qualifying streak on home soil in the decade-plus since that day.
The feel-good winning streak which eluded Klinsmann and his men for more than a year of his tenure has arrived suddenly and impressively this month, accompanied by genuine quality in their performances.
Jozy Altidore is scoring goals at will, even with changes in the midfield that provides him service, while Michael Bradley remains a transformative leader and pace-setter both on and off the ball. The young defense anchored by Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez remains an unfinished product, yet shows signs of progress with each passing match.
Suspensions have again taken their toll this week as left back DaMarcus Beasley must sit out this match due to yellow-card accumulation, a gap which should be filled either by Fabian Johnson moving back from left midfield or Edgar Castillo – whose previous starts in the role have not always been easy on the eyes – getting another chance to impress.
Highlights: Honduras 2, USMNT 1
But Bradley's first-choice central midfield partner Jermaine Jones is back from a concussion and expected to regain his place in the XI.
A nation wracked by recurring bouts of violence and political turmoil continues to find meaningful solace in the exploits of its overachieving footballers. Fueled by several MLS-based talents, Los Catrachos impressed the world in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Summer Olympics and remain a strong contender for one of CONCACAF's berths to Brazil 2014.
But even after last week's assured 2-0 home win over Jamaica, times are tough at this particular juncture as several starters look likely to miss out on the meeting with the USA. Víctor Bernárdez and Luis Garrido are suspended for Tuesday's match, and Maynor Figueroa, Boniek García and Emilo Izaguirre are carrying knocks which may affect their involvement.
So it's an inopportune time for Bengtson to rock the boat with additional drama, which is exactly what he did by storming out on his national team and returning to the New England Revolution, apparently in a fit of pique at being dropped from the lineup against Jamaica.
The Revs Designated Player is his country's leading scorer in qualifying. And while Suárez can call on other attacking influences like Roger Rojas, Mario Martínez, Marvin Chávez and former D.C. United Homegrown star Andy Najar, all eyes will be on García to see if the Houston Dynamo sparkplug can lead the charge against the US.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Jermaine Jones
The Yanks' chief midfield enforcer has been cleared to return from the concussion sustained in Kingston in the June 7 victory over Jamaica, and sounds highly likely to resume his role alongside Michael Bradley in the middle of the park. While he remains Klinsmann's most trusted acolyte, a tough task awaits him against the Catrachos' physicality and bite, and there will be little margin for a slow start.
Honduras – Roger Espinoza
Expect Jones' chief antagonist on Tuesday to be a familiar face to Sporting Kansas City fans. Though he wears his native country's colors, Espinoza is a product of the US system through and through, having risen from the junior-college level through MLS and on to England, where his range and aggression have helped him rapidly settle into an important player for Wigan Athletic. In Utah, he'll be a lynchpin to Honduras' hopes of holding off the USMNT attack and carving out a few chances of their own.
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby/Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Stuart Holden (Bolton/England), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
GOALKEEPERS: Noel Valladares (Olimpia/Honduras), Donis Escober (Olimpia/Honduras), Kevin Hernández (Real España/Honduras)
DEFENDERS: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia/Honduras), Víctor Bernárdez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chávez (Wisla Krakow/Poland), Juan Carlos García (Olimpia/Honduras), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic/Scotland), Johnny Leverón (Vancouver Whitecaps), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua/Honduras), Arnold Peralta (Rangers/Scotland), Orlin Peralta (Vida/Honduras), José Velásquez (Victoria/Honduras)
MIDFIELDERS: Marvin Chávez (San Jose Earthquakes), Jorge Claros (Hibernian/Scotland), Roger Espinoza (Wigan Athletic/England), Boniek García (Houston Dynamo), Luis Garrido (Estrella Roja/Honduras), Mario Martínez (Seattle Sounders), Andy Najar (Anderlecht/Belgium), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City/England)
FORWARDS: Carlo Costly (Veria/Greece), Rony Martínez (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Jerry Palacios (LD Alajuelense/Costa Rica), Diego Reyes (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Rojer Rojas (Olimpia/Honduras)