ARLINGTON, Texas – Don’t start packing the confetti cannons in Chicago with red, white and blue and green, white and red just yet.
As much as CONCACAF might like to see the United States and Mexico rehash their obsessive – and wildly lucrative – rivalry at Soldier Field in the Gold Cup final on Sunday, Honduras head coach Luis Fernando Suárez isn’t ready to concede his side’s place at the table to the region’s reigning powers.
Of course, Los Catrachos still have to knock off a recently dominant US side on Wednesday night at Cowboys Stadium (7 pm ET, FOX Soccer/UniMas, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com) to book their place in the Windy City.
And to make that dream a reality, Suárez is leaning on lessons learned from someone with plenty of finals experience, specifically French manager Raymond Domenech, who passed on a bit of wisdom seven years ago that the Colombian still refers back to today.
“I want to get to the final in Chicago, of course. We have to be ambitious,” Suárez told reporters on Tuesday. “I remember six years ago in Germany during the [2006 FIFA World Cup] … and the French coach told the players that they would make it to the finals in July. Something that he never told the players was that they would become champions.
“Those are the words that move people. Tomorrow is a good opportunity to change that game scheme so it doesn’t end up being a US-Mexico final in Chicago. We can’t be programmed to lose. We have to be programmed to win.”
US doctrine these days states anything short of a title is a disappointment, but it’s certainly not unthinkable that Suárez’s young Honduras side could pull off the upset.
After all, they’re the only team in CONCACAF to defeat the Americans this year, coming up trumps in San Pedro Sula by a 2-1 scoreline in World Cup qualifying in early February. But that loss seemed to spark Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad, who had been under immense pressure but are now coasting after nine straight wins have them on the cusp of a regional title and atop the Hexagonal.
Honduras, meanwhile, failed to build on that result in February, and now sit fourth in the Hex with seven points, battling with Mexico and Panama for one guaranteed spot and another in a playoff against Oceania. Still, they haven’t forgotten what made them so successful under the boiling sun at Estadio Olimpico.
“I think Honduras is a team that can be described as uncomfortable,” Suárez said. “… This team, even when it loses, has had a great attitude on the field. We haven’t only been a tough rival for the US this year. A coach from any national team can say a million things about Honduras, but one thing that they will say is that they’re a difficult team to go up against.”
But even Suárez recognizes that the landscape has changed considerably since Feb. 6, and hard work alone won’t be enough to move on. Quality must shine through, as well.
This US squad has torn through their Gold Cup competition, posting 16 goals while allowing just three, and while Honduras promises to be at least as tough a test as Costa Rica was in Hartford, it’s unlikely the Central Americans will venture too far from the defensive posture adopted by the Ticos.
Suárez’s hope is that that they’ll be able to weather the US storm, with a primary goal certain to be negating Landon Donovan, and hold onto the ball enough to inflict some damage of their own.
“There are several ways [to defend against the US]. Having possession of the ball is one of the main ones, and also with a great defensive line and being aggressive against them,” Suárez said. "With the US condition, with their speed and explosion, we have to perform that way as well. We can’t come and stay in our backline, but rather we have to propose the game against them.”