Everyone, take a deep breath in....and out. It’s time for the United States to move on from last Friday’s loss to Costa Rica. We can analyze the back line, the keeper, the crowd and the tactics all we want, but the USMNT still have one more crucial qualifying leg during this international break when they travel to San Pedro Sula to face Honduras.
The last time the USMNT faced Honduras with their backs against the wall was in March. The result? USA trounced the Hondurans in San Jose with a thunderous 6-0 victory. This time around, the prematch talk mirrors that of last March’s match: the US need three points, and they need them now.
However, winning on the road in CONCACAF is never easy. The heat, humidity, and crowd always have a say in in the decisiveness of a match. And for the USMNT, those factors loom as deep, dark shadows shading their path to World Cup qualification. There remains a flurry of scenarios that influence which CONCACAF teams can still make it to Russia. Luckily for us, our friend Donald has laid these out nicely for us in his scenarios post.
L (0-2) - Costa Rica - WCQ
W (2-1) - Jamaica - Gold Cup Final
W (2-0) - Costa Rica - Gold Cup Semifinal
W (2-0) - El Salvador - Gold Cup Quarterfinal
W (3-0) - Nicaragua - Gold Cup Group Stage
W (2-1) - Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
L (0-1) - Mexico - Gold Cup Quarterfinal
D (0-0) - Canada - Gold Cup Group Stage
W (3-0) - French Guinea - Gold Cup Group Stage
L (0-1) - Costa Rica - Gold Cup Group Stage
What to Watch For
Defensive Mindset - It’s difficult to envision Bruce Arena’s men flying out of the gate against Honduras with a high pressure defensive system. Maybe they try this tactic in the first 10 minutes to set the course for the remaining 80, but in order to preserve their stamina, it’s best they hold back the line and play a bit more rigid as a unit. This would also aid in plugging the holes ripped open by the dynamic counter-attack of Costa Rica. The United States can’t afford to go down a goal at any point during this match or they risk being run into the ground by a tricky Honduran side. Defense will come first for Arena’s men, and a shutout will be the main objective for the US.
Quickness Up Top - Due to an accumulation of yellow cards, Jozy Altidore is sidelined for Tuesday’s match. This means that the USMNT just got a bit smaller in the attacking half and will have to rely less on physical holdup play. Bobby Wood isn’t close to being one of the smallest guys on the field, but his game is best suited to go at opposing defenders in an east-west direction to create space for his fellow attackers. The space he creates for the the wingers and attacking mid should create some chaos up top. Expect the USMNT to rely on their speed and counter-attack.
Mental Game - The U.S. are in a highly precarious position during the later stages of World Cup qualifying. The loss to Costa Rica at home was not in the cards. But the reality of the situation is that the USMNT still possess control of their World Cup fate. In an interview with ESPNFC, Michael Bradley called for his team to be unfazed by the first result:
"This is our reality at the moment. The likelihood is that it's going to go down to the wire, and that can't faze anybody, that can't scare us. Costa Rica and Mexico are gone. Us, Panama and Honduras play a few games, and one will go to the World Cup, one will go to the playoff and one will be out." - USMNT Captain, Michael Bradley
The weather will help expose the mentality of the USMNT. Will they remain firm and rigid as a unit? Or will they scramble their chances by trying too hard to be special? Only Tuesday will tell.
This is sure to be wrong, but these players are what I think bring a good mix of veteran experience and youthful energy. Taylor Twellman brought up a good point during last Friday’s broadcast that Arena might lean towards some more domestic players for this match who have played in the CONCACAF Champions League or in arenas similar to these. Wood will play as the lone striker due to Altidore’s suspension - though I expect him to interplay and change with the attacking crew more than Jozy would - and Darlington Nagbe will go back to the left side where he is most threatening. Clint Dempsey will be a fresh, veteran selection in the midfield where I believe Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya bring a good amount of experience to the table and can plug the defensive holes. And since Arena has no fear of switching keepers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Brad Guzan get the nod on Tuesday.
Who gets the win on Tuesday? Who do you think will lead the charge in the lineup? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter/Facebook!