ARLINGTON, Texas – Whatever you do, don’t call the United States’ World Cup qualifying loss to Honduras in February a turning point. Jurgen Klinsmann is having none of it.
Sure, that was the last time the US lost to CONCACAF competition, the game that reportedly sparked enough discord in the locker room to inspire a tell-all article a little more than a month later. And, yes, the Americans have lost just once since then, a 4-2 defeat vs. Belgium that was followed by a record nine straight wins, including one against the Hondurans.
It sure seems like something of a turning point. Looks like one, too, at least to the untrained eye.
But Klinsmann isn’t at all interested in playing into that storyline ahead of Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal against Los Catrachos (7 pm ET, FOX Soccer/UniMas, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Not even for a second.
“There was no turning point,” Klinsmann insisted in his pregame press conference on Tuesday. “We lost a game that we deserved to lose because we couldn’t adjust to the conditions in Honduras in the beginning of February within the 48 hours with the European players flying into San Pedro Sula. It was just not possible.”
He continued making his case by pointing out the Americans were coming off the “most successful year in U.S. Soccer history in 2012” before emphasizing that the occasional hiccup is part and parcel to developing a successful team.
One hiccup in particular likely cost the US a point, but it may have also been the crucial to the emergence of Omar Gonzalez in central defense.
The US’ form has followed the same trajectory as Gonzalez’s play on the international stage in the months since his moment of hesitation allowed Jerry Bengtson to ghost in the game-winner. But ever the company man, the LA Galaxy man sided with his head coach. Turning point, he said, that game was not.
“I just think this year slowly things have been getting better and better,” Gonzalez said. “With each game, we’ve been getting better. These things don’t happen overnight. Obviously, Jurgen’s been doing something right since he’s taken over and hopefully we can continue on that upward trend.”
They’ll have to do that against a Honduras side that wasn’t even favored back home when the tournament began, but has captured the interest of their countrymen with a scrappy attitude and dogged defensive mindset inspired by charismatic head coach Luis Fernando Suárez.
“They don’t leave any space open, especially around the box. They make it tough,” Klinsmann said. “I think you saw the last 15 minutes against Costa Rica literally all of them were in the box. They defended it well, they got their result, they grinded it out and they’re in the semifinal. I think it has to do a lot with commitment, with discipline. That shows the handwriting of [head coach] Luis Suárez. He gives that team the belief [to get results].”
And until now at least, the results have been good.
Good enough to set up their third meeting with the US this year. Good enough to move within 90 minute of the Gold Cup final. And good enough to give Klinsmann a reason for concern, even if he refuses to look back to February in San Pedro Sula for inspiration.
“Does Honduras have a chance? Absolutely,” Klinsmann said. “We start this game nil-nil, so it’s 50-50. We know it’s going to be a tough game. It’s a game where we’ll have to be patient, we’ll have to keep a high rhythm, keep the tempo going. We’ll have to find ways to score first and not give a goal away first. We are ready for that, but every game in the knockout stage, there is no favorite team.”