Hobbled US backline feeling confident after shutting out Honduras

SAN JOSE, Calif. – For all the highlight-reel material the US national team provided at the attacking end against Honduras on Friday night, there was still work to be done at the other end of the Avaya Stadium field. 

The fusillade of goals in a 6-0 win might have muted the urgency of the task for the US defense, but it still increased the Americans’ level of self-assurance that, even without presumptive starter DeAndre Yedlin at right back and making two mid-game backline substitutions, they were still able to keep Honduras off the board.

“To put together a clean sheet is always great for a defender and gives us a ton of confidence,” center back Omar Gonzalez said. 

That’s not to say there weren’t moments of “sloppiness,” as head coach Bruce Arena put it, especially at the end of either half. Erick Andino, who came on as a substitute after Romell Quioto’s injury, pushed his shot from six yards wide of the near post – perhaps with some last-second help from John Brooks – to let the US escape just before intermission. And Brayan Beckeles cannoned a long-range volley off the crossbar in the 60th minute for the visitors’ closest chance.

Yet the line stood firm in the face of Honduras’ speedy counterattack, led by the Houston Dynamo tandem of Quioto and Alberth Elis. Left back Jorge Villafaña fared well in his first World Cup qualifier and Tim Ream had a nice block on a Honduras cross after checking in late for Brooks, who was forced out due to the after-effects of a sinus infection, according to Arena.

And Geoff Cameron manned the right side – the cause of so much pre-match worry among fans and pundits – quite capably in Yedlin’s absence before giving way (presumably in deference to his knee injury of last year) on the hour mark to Graham Zusi.

“I love having Geoff out there,” said US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was making his international return following adductor surgery in November. “He’s a security blanket in so many ways. His athleticism is second to none. I thought the back line did a really good job.”

Despite the Hondurans’ pace and their 5-4-1 setup, built to take advantage when the US had numbers downfield, coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s visions of his players streaming down the pitch on the break never really came to fruition.

“We focused on their attack,” Howard said. “We focused Quioto and Elis this week and I think a lot of shutting them down wasn’t so much us playing badly. I think we nullified them in the attack, particularly when the ball turned over.”

The Americans will likely face a tougher challenge on Tuesday against a Panama team looking to keep itself above the US in the Hex standings after a loss at Trinidad & Tobago on Friday night. Arena’s defense, which could feature veteran DaMarcus Beasley moving back into the lineup at left back, will need to withstand a sustained attack to come away with points on the road. There’s also the possibility that Brooks could miss the contest, though Arena said the Hertha Berlin center back will travel to Panama “whether he likes it or not.”

“Obviously, they still had a couple chances, so we need to find a way to minimize those chances and be a little bit more proactive when we have the ball,” Gonzalez said. “We need to make sure everyone has an eye on where their attackers are so that if we do turn the ball over, we can thwart any kind of attack they’re trying to set up.”