The US men's national team must face down heat, noise and a fearsome opponent as they kick off the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying with a testing match against Honduras at Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday afternoon (4 pm ET on beINSport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
It’s a classic CONCACAF road challenge for the Yanks, with scant preparation time for a motivated opponent that's pulled out all the stops. The hosts moved up gametime and decreed a nationwide half-day holiday to use their tropical climate and loyal fan support to maximum advantage. Most importantly though, they have built a confident, well-balanced squad with World Cup and Olympic experience that looks like a strong contender for one of the Hex’s three automatic qualification spots.
Both sides enter the occasion with focused leadership and few injury concerns, setting the scene for a fiery, memorable clash.
With a 12-3-3 overall mark against Los Catrachos, the US have enjoyed the upper hand in this half-century-old rivalry.
The USA officially booked their ticket to the 2010 World Cup by virtue of a pulsating 3-2 win in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 10, 2009. Honduras still made it to South Africa, thanks to the Jonathan Bornstein header that drew the USMNT level with Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in the dying seconds of that cycle’s final qualifier and made the left back a national hero in a foreign country.
Go back a bit further, though, and you’ll find that Honduras inflicted one of the Yanks’ greatest-ever humiliations on home soil, also at RFK. In September of 2001 a Carlos Pavón penalty kick and a brace from Milton Núñez erased an Earnie Stewart double to power the Central Americans to a famous 3-2 victory in front of a packed crowd in the heart of the nation’s capital, a substantial bump on the road to Korea/Japan 2002.
Honduras Team Outlook
While everyday life in their country remains stacked with adversity, La Bicolor have brought great pride and joy to the nation with their rise on the world stage over the past several years, both individually and as a team.
The Scouting Report: Honduras vs. USA
Confident that success breeds success, coach Luis Fernando Suárez and his men will be unhappy with anything less than a berth in Brazil 2014 and a victory over the US would represent the perfect start.
So there’s a certain irony in the fact that MLS has fostered Honduras’ international prospects, with half a dozen members of the current squad either current or former standouts in the league. Roger Espinoza – whose blend of vision, hard work and ruthlessness epitomizes the national team’s ethos – just leaped from Sporting KC to England’s Wigan Athletic and has hit the ground running.
Espinoza and Dynamo DP Boniek García will look to impose themselves on Wednesday’s proceedings and if New England frontrunner Jerry Bengtson can continue his torrid international scoring form, it will be a long afternoon for the Yanks.
Hulking Earthquakes center back Víctor Bernárdez will lead the defensive effort; he’s yet another Catracho with an uncompromising outlook, both physically and psychologically.
USA Team Outlook
Jurgen Klinsmann took his native Germany to the 2006 World Cup semis and navigated a few twists and turns with the US in last year’s CONCACAF semifinal round, but he’s never coached in a setting quite like San Pedro Sula. He and his team must match the intensity of a skillful, physical adversary while managing the match’s tempo amid oppressive weather, uncertain field conditions and a baying crowd.
A hard-boiled midfield anchored by Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones should be up for the battle, while captain Carlos Bocanegra, goalkeeper Tim Howard and quick study Geoff Cameron have the difficult, but attainable, goal of blanking a powerful Catrachos attack spearheaded by Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson. Up front, the likes of Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore know where the goal is, but will they be fed the necessary service?
A decent result to start the Hex marathon could prove pivotal.
“You know that you’re going to be in for 10 games that are going to push you to the limit,” said Bradley of the long year ahead. “Not everything is going to go perfect every step along the way, but if that’s your mentality and you have the spirit and the strength of character to pull you through the tough times, then you give yourself the best chance.”
Players To Watch
Honduras – Jerry Bengtson: Beloved back home, he hasn’t yet caught fire in front of the net with the Revolution in the manner that he has in his country’s colors. He might just have that little bit extra to prove against the States, though the high expectations of the home fans can also be a double-edged sword.
USA – Timothy Chandler: The likely replacement for injured right back Steve Cherundolo, the German-American has been impressive in both directions in the few friendly matches he’s played for the US and he could provide an important outlet to relieve pressure and add width down the flank. Taking the field will cap-tie him to the Yanks, so he’ll want to make it a memorable event for the right reasons.
GOALKEEPERS: Noel Valladares (Olimpia/Honduras), Donis Escober (Olimpia/Honduras), José Mendoza (Marathón/Honduras)
DEFENDERS: Arnold Peralta (Vida/Honduras), Bryan Beckeles (Olimpia/Honduras), Víctor Bernárdez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chávez (Wisla Krakow/Poland), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan/England), Juan Pablo Montes (Platense/Honduras), Juan Carlos Garcia (Olimpia/Honduras), Orlin Peralta (Vida/Honduras)
MIDFIELDERS: Luis Garrido (Red Star Belgrade/Serbia), Jorge Claros (Hibernian/Scotland), Roger Espinoza (Wigan/England), Alex López (Olimpia/Honduras), Boniek García (Houston Dynamo), Mario Martínez (Seattle Sounders), Aldo Oviedo (Real España/Honduras)
FORWARDS: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Roger Rojas (Olimpia/Honduras), Carlo Costly (Veria/Honduras), Georgie Welcome (Motagua/Honduras), Christian Altamirano (Marathón/Honduras)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander/Spain), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (TSG Hoffenheim/Germany), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor/Turkey), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Jose Torres (UANL Tigres/Mexico), Danny Williams (TSG Hoffenheim/Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)