Gold Cup: Honduras left to pick up the pieces after "disastrous" group stage exit

HOUSTON – After two consecutive World Cup appearances, the Honduran national team looked to be on their way to becoming a fixture in CONCACAF and possibly beyond. Twelve months after appearing in Brazil, Los Catrachos have bottomed out.

After reaching the semifinals in four of the previous five Gold Cups, they bombed out of the tournament Monday with a 1-0 loss to underdogs Haiti, putting them fourth in Group A, and did it in a fashion no one would have expected. It also means no berth in next year’s Copa America Centenario.

“Not only is Honduras surprised but all of CONCACAF is surprised,” Houston Dynamo and Honduras midfielder Alexander Lopez told MLSsoccer.com through a translator. “It’s disastrous and is heartbreaking. If anything I’m taking the best out of it and it’s going to give us motivation going forward.

“It’s just motivation. Seeing every country step up and play better games. We’ll just move forward on the road to Russia and this is the motivation we need to play better.”

Lopez was a standout at the 2013 Gold Cup, leading Honduras on a run through the knockout stages. That tournament put him on Houston’s radar and led to his signing with the Dynamo. Two years later and Lopez has been out of that mix as he worked his way into playing time, but is finding his feet under new Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle. He’s carved out a starting role with Houston and has found confidence to go with it, finally, balancing his skill and work ethic on the field.

With Honduras’ latest results, it could be a sign of a greater turnover in talent and a chance for the 23-year-old to break back into a blue-and-white set-up.

The downturn for Honduras at the Gold Cup may be surprising if not entirely unexpected. They were poor at last year’s Copa Centroamericana under Hernan Medford, which forced them into a playoff with French Guyana that edged by one goal to qualify for the tournament.

That result cost Medford his job and prompted the hiring of Jorge Luis Pinto, who guided Costa Rica in a remarkable run to the World Cup quarterfinals, where they pushed the Netherlands all the way to a penalty shootout.

Pinto’s tactics led to praise in a scoreless draw against Mexico before the tournament and pushing the US in what was ultimately a 2-1 loss in the first game of the group stage.

“I think [Pinto] did a good job especially against the US. I think even the US noticed he was doing a good job, just unfortunately we went [from] best to worst,” Lopez said. “They started off well and just kind of wore out.”

Their last two games were disastrous, as they tied Panama 1-1 and lost to perceived group minnow Haiti.

“I don’t have a lot of prior knowledge about Haiti … I think they’ve been a terrific surprise package, but that’s what happens in prestigious tournaments,” said head coach Owen Coyle. “You have to be ready to play your maximum on that given day. [Honduras] were in a tough group, there’s no getting away from that …. Unfortunately they were the ones that lost out.”

Two players on the squad are headed back to Houston as both Luis Garrido and Boniek Garcia are expected back Tuesday night.

Garrido was an injury replacement and did not see time while Garcia, who had an ankle injury when called in, picked up an adductor strain and is a question mark for Saturday’s game versus Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, MLS LIVE), according to Coyle.

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.