On Tuesday afternoon the US national team will visit Honduras for a pivotal World Cup qualifier at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula. With the two teams level on 8 points apiece in the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings, it’s a match that could well determine which of the two nations gets a chance to represent at the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer.
It also looks likely to add to the chaotic, contentious history of USMNT qualifying visits to the Central American destination.
The US are 3-1-1 all-time at Honduras, yet that statistic belies the hard work and adversity that comes with trips there, particularly the muggy lowland metropolis of San Pedro Sula.
“SPS” is known for its hot tropical climate, passionate soccer supporters and in this century, chronically high crime rates that generally require visiting national teams to spend most of their visits in their hotels under heavy security.
The USMNT’s history there dates back to 1965, when Ed Murphy scored two goals in two US-Honduras games in five days – the first in SPS, the second in the highlands city of Tegucigalpa – to earn USA a win and a draw in qualifying for the 1966 World Cup. It wasn’t enough to advance, as Mexico finished comfortably ahead of both countries in CONCACAF Group 1, en route to snaring CONCACAF’s only slot at England '66.
The USMNT wouldn’t meet Los Catrachos again on such a stage until the new century, when dramatic goals from Earnie Stewart and Clint Mathis powered a 2-1 win in SPS on March 28, 2001:
Five months later, Honduras took revenge with a wild 3-2 comeback win at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., a result that prompted U.S. Soccer to rethink its approach to host venues for major qualifiers.
Two cycles on, these sides crossed paths again on the road to South Africa 2010. After Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra scored in USA’s 2-1 home win at Soldier Field in Chicago in June, Colorado Rapids legend Conor Casey bagged a brace as the USMNT clinched their World Cup place with a frenetic 3-2 victory in SPS:
Four years ago, a hyped-up Honduras took revenge, ambushing the US at the Metropolitano in the first match of the 2014 Hexagonal.
Learning from the past, Los Catrachos scheduled this clash for a sweltering afternoon kickoff, despite the fact that it was a Wednesday – and the government lent a hand by declaring a half-day holiday so that the nation’s millions of fans could support the team to the max.
A first-half goal from Clint Dempsey got the visitors off on the right foot. But it all crumbled down the stretch as the Yanks wilted in the heat, undone by goals from Juan Carlos Garcia and Jerry Bengtson:
What does Tuesday’s encounter have in store? No matter which side you support, it’s sure to be another nerve-jangling affair.