The United States can put themselves within touching distance of a place in next year’s World Cup with a win against Honduras in Utah on Tuesday. Having beaten Jamaica and Panama in the past two weeks, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side now sit two points clear at the top of the Concacaf Hexagonal. With Honduras currently in fourth spot and the top three sides qualifying automatically for Brazil, Klinsmann is understandably putting much importance on the match.
“This game against Honduras is a big, big game,” he said, according to the US Soccer website. “For me it’s almost a six-pointer. You want to win this game badly.”
Extra incentive is only added by the fact that Honduras inflicted a painful defeat on the U.S. in the first match of the Hexagonal in February. Omar Gonzalez made his first appearance in a World Cup qualifier in that encounter San Pedro Sula, but it did not end well with the LA Galaxy defender at fault for Honduras’s late winner. Yet, the 24-year-old has come on a good deal since and his burgeoning central-defensive partnership with the equally inexperienced Matt Besler has been key in recent good performances.
Indeed, there is now a solid spine to the U.S. side of the type that is crucial to the success of any team. In midfield, Michael Bradley has, after a good season with Italian side Roma, continued to grow into a pivotal player. The presence of the defensively minded Geoff Cameron in the 2-0 victory over Panama allowed Bradley to showcase his dynamic ability to cause real problems breaking forward. It will be interesting then to see how he operates with the expected return of Jermaine Jones alongside him against Honduras after the Schalke man missed out last time with a concussion.
Alongside that duo will be the welcome return of Graham Zusi. The Sporting Kansas City midfielder’s abilities have made him a surprisingly valued player for the U.S. and especially for Jozy Altidore. Having failed to score during Klinsmann’s reign, the AZ Alkmaar striker has now found the net in his last three appearances, with two of those goals coming off of Zusi crosses. That Altidore continues providing a reliable goal-scoring threat is crucial for the U.S. side that has in the past been far too reliant on Clint Dempsey.
The U.S. will be without DaMarcus Beasley, but that is nothing compared to the raft of issues impacting their opponents. Central defenders Victor Bernardez and Wigan Athletic’s Maynor Figueroa are out through suspension and injury, respectively, while midfielder Luis Garrido is also suspended. On top of that, key forward Oscar Boniek Garcia, who scored in the 2-0 win over Jamaica last week is a major doubt with a hamstring injury. And to make matters worse New England Revolution striker Jerry Bengston has been sent back to his club after a dispute with manager Luis Fernando Suarez.
United States (probable)
D: Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, F. Johnson
M: Jones, Bradley
Zusi, Dempsey, E. Johnson
D: Izaguirre, Montes, O. Chavez, J. Garcia
M: Juarez, Palacios, Najar, Espinoza,
F: Martinez, Rojas
Prediction: Coming into the match with all manner of problems and having recorded all their points so far in the Hexagonal at home, the odds are firmly stacked against Honduras travelling to Sandy, Utah. Los Catrachos should provide a challenge, but the U.S. are likely to be high on confidence and will expect to make it nine points out of nine to complete this qualifying stretch.
USA 2-0 Honduras
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off from the Rio Tinto Stadium at 9 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.