USA vs. Honduras - match image for DL, xlink - March 24, 2017
USA Today Sports

USA vs. Honduras | CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Preview

Friday, March 24, 10:30 pm ET
Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California
TV: FS1, UniMas, Follow on the MLS App

More than four months after opening the Hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to archrival Mexico and a 4-0 shellacking at Costa Rica that ultimately cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job, the US national team will return to action with a World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Friday – and the stakes couldn’t be much higher.

The USMNT are dead-last in the Hex through two matches, a tenuous position that would be made even more perilous with anything less than a win at Avaya Stadium. Bruce Arena, back for his second stint in charge of the team, wasn’t dealt an easy hand for his first competitive match since making his USMNT return, either. The ex-LA manager is dealing with a slew of injuries that have left the US short of several surefire starters, including Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson.

Shorthanded or not, this is a game the US will be expected to win. If they fall flat at Avaya Stadium, they’ll have a huge hole to dig out of as they attempt to qualify for Russia 2018.

Roster notes: Arena called a heavily MLS-based squad for Friday’s match against Honduras and next Tuesday’s qualifier at Panama, with 19 of the 26 players in camp playing in the league. That group includes a couple of returning veterans in Clint Dempsey, who hasn’t played for the US since last summer due to an irregular heartbeat, and Tim Howard, who recently returned to action from a groin injury suffered in the loss against Mexico.

USA Outlook

No, Friday’s match isn’t technically a must-win for the US, but it might as well be. As noted above, the US are in dead-last in the six-team Hex through their opening two matches, trailing fifth-place Trinidad & Tobago on goal differential.

A loss on Friday would leave the US at least four points and potentially up to six out of fourth-place in the Hex. It might just spell doom for their World Cup hopes, too. As noted by’s Ives Galarcep, no team has ever reached a World Cup after failing to record a point in their first three Hex matches, no team has lost its first two home Hex matches and qualified for the World Cup, and no team has secured an automatic spot in the World Cup with just one point from its opening three Hex contests.

Injuries will make things more difficult. Likely starters forward Bobby Wood, defender DeAndre Yedlin and midfielder/defender Fabian Johnson are all out due to injury, while regular midfielder Jermaine Jones will be unavailable on Friday due to a suspension. Jordan Morris’ status is also in doubt, as the Seattle forward tweaked his ankle on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

Morris’ injury could open the door for Dempsey to get a start. The 34-year-old missed the second half of last season due to an irregular heartbeat detected in August, but has played all but one minute of Seattle’s three matches this year, scoring a couple of goals for the Sounders. Arena has talked him up as a super-sub in the past, but he’ll no doubt be tempted to start the US veteran up top with Jozy Altidore.

Honduras Outlook

Los Catrachos enter Friday’s match in fourth place in the Hexagonal after posting a 1-1-0 mark in their first two matches. Honduras opened the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with a 1-0 home loss to Panama, but rebounded nicely in their second match a few days later, getting a goal from Houston’s Romell Quioto and two assists from Dynamo teammate Boniek Garcia in their 3-1 home win against Trinidad & Tobago.

Quioto, Garcia and fellow Dynamo attacker Alberth Elis figure to play a big role in Honduras’ attack on Friday. Quioto and Elis have started the MLS season particularly well, with Quioto recording three goals and Elis tallying a goal and an assist as Houston have gotten off to a 2-1-0 start.

They’ll be joined at Avaya Stadium by two other MLS players, likely starters Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza and FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa. Together, they’ll look to defend deep and use the pace of Elis and Quioto to hit the US on the counter as they try to spring the upset.

“You understand that when you play against a team that has a lot of different guys behind the ball and lines are tight, the understanding that things aren’t going to come easy, there’s not going to be tons of space,” US captain Michael Bradley said when asked how to best break down Honduras. “It’s not going to be, I wouldn’t think, a wide-open game. We’ve worked on a few different things in terms of how we would like to go about things so that we can put them on their heels a little bit and be dangerous, tilt the ball in our favor.”

All-Time Series

The US is 15-4-4 all-time against Honduras, scoring 39 goals to 22 for Los Catrachos. The countries last met in July 2015 in their opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, with the US getting two goals from Clint Dempsey to win 2-1 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

In World Cup qualifying action, the US is 5-2-1 against Honduras. They’re 2-1-0 against Los Catrachos in home qualifiers, with the lone loss coming in 2001 in Washington, D.C.  

Player to Watch

USA – Christian Pulisic

The 18-year-old is flying high with Borussia Dortmund, and is likely in line for his third straight Hexagonal start on Friday. Whether he lines up out wide (likely) or in more of central role (it’d be a surprise), Pulisic will have a huge opportunity to make an impact one of the biggest international matches of his young career. If he can carry his hot form from the Bundesliga and Champions League into Friday’s match, the USMNT just might get back on track.

Honduras – Roger Espinoza

Elis or Quioto would be the sexier pick, but, with Honduras likely to sit deep and defend, Roger Espinoza will likely play a much bigger role should he get the start on Friday. So adept at breaking things up in the central midfield, the Sporting KC man will look to disrupt the US attack at Avaya Stadium. If he’s successful, it could be another long, frustrating night for the USMNT.

USA Roster

Goalkeepers (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (10): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Honduras Roster: 

Goalkeepers (3): Donis Escober, Luis Lopez, Ricardo Canales

Defenders (8): Brayan Beckeles, Felix Crisanto, Henry Figueroa, Maynor Figueroa, Ever Alvarado, Allans Vargas, Emilio Izaguirre, Cesar Oseguera

Midfielders (10): Oliver Morazon, Jorge Claros, Brayan Acosta, Roger Espinoza, Mario Martinez, Carlos Discua, Erick Andino, Boniek Garcia, Rommel Quioto, Andy Najar

Forwards (5): Anthony Lozano, Alberth Elis, Eddie Hernandez, Rubilio Castillo, Michel Chirinos