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USA vs. Honduras, 2022 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: Scouting Honduras

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The USMNT closes out the international window against a Central American foe.

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FBL-WC-2022-CONCACAF-QUALIFIERS-HON-CAN Photo by WENDELL ESCOTO/AFP via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team is trying forge ahead in the pursuit of qualification following a 1-0 win against El Salvador and 2-0 loss to Canada. The 11th match of the Octagonal round is against Honduras at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A crucial fixture against the last-place team, three points could be a necessity ahead of the final window.

This is the 28th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding an 18-4-5 advantage. On Matchday Three, Gregg Berhalter led his side to a 4-1 victory in San Pedro Sula. Antonee Robinson, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson, and Sebastian Lletget scored to earn three points.

Los Catrachos are managed by Hernán Darío Gómez, who has experience with Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama. He led the latter nation to the 2018 World Cup and was named 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Coach of the Year. The 65-year-old Colombian was appointed to the role in October of 2021, replacing Fabián Coito after a poor start.

Honduras opened qualifying with a 0-3-3 record. In Gómez’s first two matches, the team lost to Panama, 3-2, and Costa Rica, 2-1. Two weeks ago, a friendly against Colombia resulted in a 2-1 defeat. During this window, Los Catrachos were on the wrong end of consecutive 2-0 results with Canada and El Salvador, which resulted in elimination from contention.

With the 2022 World Cup out of reach, the mood appears somber around camp. “These are dark moments where there is no longer any patience,” Gómez said during his abrupt press conference. “In life there come moments when they are not opportune and everyone’s patience has run out. They go from a pleasant situation to one where there is no longer respect and we are singled out for what is happening. I have nothing more to tell you, we have worked, but the results do not come out.”

Gómez named a 26-player roster for this international window. The domestic Liga Nacional provided 16 call-ups, mostly from Motagua, Olimpia, and Real España. Veteran midfielder Boniek Garcia was not included, along with notable talents such as Alexander López, Andy Najar, Rigoberto Rivas, and Rubillo Castillo.

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GOALKEEPERS (3): Luis López (Real España), Edrick Menjívar (Olimpia), Roberto López (Vida)

DEFENDERS (9): Maynor Figueroa (Unattached), Diego Rodríguez (Motagua), Denil Maldonado (Motagua), Allans Vargas (Marathón), Raúl Santos (Motagua), Omar Elvir (Motagua), Franklin Flores (Real España), Wisdom Quaye (Real España), Devron García (Real España)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Bryan Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Alfredo Mejía (Levadiakos), Edwin Rodríguez (Olimpia), Kervin Arriaga (Marathón), Jorge Álvarez (Olimpia), Kevin López (Comunicaciones), Iván López (Motagua), Cristian Sacaza (Honduras Progreso)

FORWARDS (6): Romell Quioto (CF Montréal), Alberth Elis (Bordeaux), Anthony Lozano (Cádiz), Brayan Moya (Olimpia), Jonathan Toro (Académica), Bryan Róchez (Nacional)

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Similar to his predecessor, Gómez prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation but is still figuring out the best starting lineup. Ignoring the scoreboard, Honduras has begun to turn the corner under his leadership and looked more lively in the attack. The front-line likes to press on a solo basis, committing risky dive-in tackles and attempts at intercepting passes. Direct route-one tactics have yielded the most success, with the striker checking back to receive the ball or the wingers chasing.

Projected Honduras Starting XI (via LineupBuilder.com)

Despite the manager change and Edrick Menjivar starting against El Salvador, Luis “Buba” López remains the first-choice goalkeeper. A 28-year-old with Real España, his acrobatic shot-stopping has kept many matches from turning into routs, standing firm when faced with onrushing attackers. Completing his status as a short-range specialist, he has a penchant for stopping penalty attempts.

In the 20th year of his senior international career, Maynor Figueroa is still a fixture on the Honduran back line. The 38-year-old center back is a steady, stable passer and keeps proceedings under control with the calmness of a veteran, although there have been some noticeable errors this cycle. The sometimes-captain earned a costly red card in a prior qualifier against Mexico, but a continued presence in the lineup speaks to his importance to the program. After several years on the outskirts of the squad, Denil Maldonado jumped to the top of the pecking order. The defender appeared in eight of the last nine matches, thriving as a distributor of well-time tacklers and excellent at shutting down dribblers in one-on-on situations.

With an eye on the future, the 23-year-old Widsom Quaye of Real España should start at right back. He is always looking to dribble the ball forward but fights with immediate tenacity to regain possession after an error. On the other side of the formation is Diego Rodríguez who made his international debut in 2021. His positioning can be more akin to that of a winger, especially when receiving a pass in the finally third and cutting to the middle.

Alfredo Mejía has earned over 50 caps but only recently returned to the squad after years of performing at a “low level.” The Levadiakos six can do everything required of a midfielder: tackling, short passing, field switches, through balls, leading the counter-attack, making runs into the final third, and scoring. His partner could be Kervin Arriaga who enjoyed a breakthrough at the start of the Octagonal that has continued under the new manager. The rangy Honduran has a surprising scoring touch and is composed in possession by shielding opponents. For the attacking role, the situation may call for Edwin Rodríguez of Olimpia. The 22-year-old looks to stay on the ground and connect with a checking forward for one-two/give-and-go combinations.

The strength of the squad is out wide, where perhaps the two best players reside. Romell Quioto of CF Montréal is a skilled, dynamic dribbler and scored three goals at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. On the right day, he is a handful for back lines, capable of contributing in transition and during a slower build-up. Displaying both striker and winger tendencies, Alberth Elis has scored eight goals for Bordeaux in 14 appearances this season. The 25-year-old makes cutting runs to get on the end of crosses, managing to create the necessary yard of space or dart in behind defenders’ back shoulders.

Against Canada, Gómez appeared to use Anthony “Choco” Lozano as a deep-lying false-nine, allowing the wingers to pinch inward. If there is a switch, Bryan Moya may lead the formation, taking on similar drop-back distribution responsibilities. The 29-year-old Olimpia attacking midfielder threads an accurate through ball and positions himself around the top of the box to receive low cutback crosses.

There has been some discussion as to whether the cold confines of Allianz Field will bridge the reported talent gap between the two nations. According to the Pioneer Press as of January 30th, the National Weather Service predicts “a low of minus-13 with a northwest wind up to 10 miles per hour,” although the forecast appears to have slightly improved. Adverse conditions have a tendency to dull dynamism and produce unexpected results.

The USMNT has the opportunity to exit this window with two wins, taking on what should be the easiest opponent in the final match. This is a down cycle for the prematurely eliminated Honduras, transitioning between generations and trying to rebuild. Anything short of three points for Gregg Berhalter should be viewed as a failure, due to both the talent disparity and general momentum of the two programs, as evidenced by Gómez’s comments.

The match is scheduled for Wednesday, February 2nd at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 5:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Fox Sports 1, TUDN USA, Univision, and FUBO TV (free trial).