USA vs Honduras
July 24, 2013, 7 pm ET
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Watch on FOX Soccer/UniMas | Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com
The US national team meets Honduras for the third time this year on Wednesday, this time with a berth in the Gold Cup final on the line at the enormous, luxurious home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.
The winner will meet the survivor of the evening's nightcap between Mexico and Panama in the tournament's title bout at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday (4 pm ET, Fox, Univision).
These two teams split the results in their two World Cup qualifiers, and this week's meeting looks likely to be similarly balanced. The US defeated Los Catrachos 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, last month via a Jozy Altidore strike, and Honduras ambushed the Yanks 2-1 in the Hexagonal opener in San Pedro Sula in February, a stinging defeat that triggered probing critiques of the USMNT setup – and eventually galvanized the squad, who are 10-1-1 since that day.
Honduras are enjoying one of the strongest periods in their program's history, yet this rivalry still looks one-sided on paper as the US hold a 13-4-3 advantage in the all-time series.
A 10-2-2 record on US soil makes for even tougher reading for the Central Americans, though it's worth noting that one of their two wins in the US was a 3-2 upset of the Yanks during World Cup qualifying in 2001, a surprise result in front of a loud contingent of Honduran-American fans at RFK Stadium in Washington.
That experience prompted U.S. Soccer to take a second look at their hosting process for qualifiers and the USMNT has not lost one at home since.
“OK, this time we'll really be challenged.”
That's more or less the attitude the USMNT and their fans have carried into the last two games of the Gold Cup, after early group-round trouncings of Belize and Cuba provided little in the way of a true test. Yet Costa Rica parked the bus in Connecticut last week and El Salvador were put to the sword on Sunday, despite their legions of fans in Baltimore and the added pressure of a win-or-else knockout game.
Los Catrachos are very unlikely to roll over quite that easily. Even without a few of the first-choice starters seen in the qualifiers, they are a tough, committed bunch who present a blend of skill, athleticism and intensity. The US attack will need to be just as creative and dynamic as it has been to date, but more clinical around goal.
The defense, where new arrival and Dallas native Omar Gonzalez is expected to step in at center back alongside Matt Besler, must be focused and flawless, or close to it. And the midfield faces a multitude of challenges at both ends of the field which require Klinsmann to get his central partnership – which has been in steady rotation this month – just right.
While Stateside observers have grown comfortable with advertising the Yanks as this year's odds-on Gold Cup favorites, Honduras might just be looking at the draw and wondering, “Why not us?”
They've handled themselves with assurance at this tournament and their only loss was a 2-0 result to Trinidad & Tobago in their Group B final where, advancement already assured, they rested several starters.
Manager Luis Suárez is a savvy leader who can scheme as well as motivate. The likes of Jorge “Pitbull” Claros, San Jose Earthquakes trickster Marvin Chávez and former D.C. United star Andy Najar (at right) present both flair and work rate in the center and on the flanks. And there are solid options off the bench like Jerry Palacios and former Seattle Sounders winger Mario Martínez.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Eddie Johnson
After joining the team for the knockout rounds, the Sounders star needed just 14 seconds to score his first Gold Cup goal when entering Sunday's match off the bench. His speed, strength and one-on-one abilities look better suited to the Honduras match than Chris Wondolowski and may earn him the start in North Texas. Can he show the composure to finish the scoring chances that the US have created in bunches this month?
HONDURAS – Andy Najar
The Catrachos winger was born in Choluteca, spotted by D.C. United scouts in Northern Virginia and is now pursuing his dreams in Belgium with RSC Anderlecht – and now he has the chance to lead his homeland to a famous victory over the country where he made his name. Few players in CONCACAF are as elusive on the ball as Najar and likely US fullbacks DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Parkhurst must do everything possible to avoid being exposed to his dribbling skills in the open field.
GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/Germany), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg/Sweden), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Stuart Holden (Bolton/England), Brek Shea (Stoke City/England), Jose Torres (Tigres UANL/Mexico)
FORWARDS: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)
GOALKEEPERS: Donis Escober (Olimpia/Honduras), Kevin Hernández (Real España/Honduras), José Mendoza (unattached)
DEFENDERS: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia/Honduras), Johnny Palacios (Olimpia/Honduras), David Velásquez (Victoria/Honduras), Juan Carlos García (Olimpia/Honduras), Orlin Peralta (Motagua/Honduras), Wálter Williams (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Osman Chávez (Wisla Krakow/Poland)
MIDFIELDERS: Jorge Claros (Motagua/Honduras), Luis Garrido (Olimpia/Honduras), Andy Najar (RSC Anderlecht/Belgium), Efraín López (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Marvin Chávez (San Jose Earthquakes), Alex López (Olimpia/Honduras), Mario Martínez (Real España/Honduras), Mario Berrios (Marathón/Honduras), Omar Elvir (Motagua/Honduras), Edder Delgado (Real España/Honduras)
FORWARDS: Rony Martínez (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Diego Reyes (Real Sociedad/Honduras), Roger Rojas (Olimpia/Honduras), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense/Costa Rica)