The US national team made 20,250 fans sweat on a hot Tuesday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium, but in the end, they got the job done in a 1-0 victory over an undermanned but surprisingly game Honduran side.
Jozy Altidore snapped a scoreless deadlock in the 73rd minute with his fourth goal in as many games, rescuing the US from a languid offensive showing and sending the Americans to their third win in as many World Cup qualifiers.
And with the victory, the USMNT remain on top of the CONCACAF Hexagonal with 13 points through six games and are on the cusp of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
The final result was far from certain. Despite their opponents missing as many as five starters, the Americans came out flat and lacking the attacking verve they showed in their previous two matches against Panama and Jamaica. Though they had most of the possession, there were few opportunities to break through.
The US had a couple decent looks in the early going but couldn’t find that final ball. Fabian Johnson’s threatening cross was swallowed by Honduras ’keeper Noel Valladares seven minutes in, while Eddie Johnson couldn’t finish off some nice combination play 10 minutes later.
Former Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza in particular was active in blowing holes through the US passing lanes, but he didn’t need much help. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, in their sixth start as a tandem, got off to a shakier start than they had in any of their previous run-outs together – both made ill-timed giveaways that were nearly punished by the Catrachos.
Gonzalez coughed it up to Espinoza in the 10th minute, and the Wigan Athletic man was in on goal alone until Jermaine Jones tackled him from behind. Meanwhile, former D.C. United Homegrown Andy Najar – making his first start in World Cup qualifying – picked Besler’s pocket in the 45th minute and charged in on goal to put a low, dipping shot on goal that called Tim Howard into action.
The US had a good case for a penalty kick in the 63rd minute during a goalmouth scramble. After the ball ping-ponged in the box, Clint Dempsey put a header on goal that deflected off Wilson Palacios’ hand, but head official Enrico Wijngaarde didn’t blow the whistle.
That seemed to spark the US attack to life, however, as Dempsey had a rip on goal four minutes later that sailed over the bar. In the 70th minute, Dempsey’s header was punched out by Valladares and fell to Michael Bradley, who ripped one right back at the veteran ’keeper.
Three minutes later, the Americans’ patience was rewarded off some beautiful combination play. Off a pass from Dempsey, Graham Zusi sent a cheeky ball to the left side of the box to Fabian Johnson. The Hoffenheim man took one touch to center it to Altidore, who one-timed it to the far post past Valladares for the winning strike that sent the crowd into chants of "We are going to Brazil."
Jurgen Klinsmann went with a familiar lineup, slotting Jones back into central midfield as expected, forcing Geoff Cameron to the bench. With right winger Zusi back after his suspension, the US manager opted to flip Eddie Johnson over to the opposite side, pushing Fabian Johnson to left back in DaMarcus Beasley’s absence due to card accumulation.
Honduras manager Luis Fernando Suárez was forced to make wholesale changes to his lineup. With hobbled Houston Dynamo star Boniek García on the bench, Najar slotted into right wing, joining Seattle Sounders winger Mario Martínez and Espinoza in a five-man midfield with heavy MLS flavor.
Former Dynamo striker Carlo Costly was alone up top in Suárez’s 4-5-1. José Velásquez, meanwhile, took the place of suspended San Jose Earthquakes enforcer Víctor Bernárdez in central defense.
The senior US side now gets a two-and-a-half-month break before World Cup qualifying resumes, with the next match at Costa Rica on Sept. 6. Klinsmann’s “B” side will begin gathering in San Diego in two weeks in preparation for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Graham Zusi||Put the US' attacking fortunes on his shoulders in the second half after a lackluster first half and had a cheeky assist on Altidore's goal|
|2||Roger Espinoza||Former Sporting man covered an incredible amount of ground, was Honduras' primary attacking catalyst and won his fair share of balls|
|3||Jozy Altidore||Didn't see the ball as much as he would've liked in the first half, but his hold up play his solid and he continued his breakout USMNT campaign with a strong second half, capped with a well-taken goal|