For 84 minutes in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, the United States looked incapable of completing even the most simple of tasks.
Chance creation? Goals? These things are mere fantasies for a team struggling to link a few passes together.
Bruce Arena’s side, which featured nine MLS based players from the start, was utterly abysmal for large spells of their 1-1 draw with Honduras in front of an announced crowd of 37,325 at a raucous Estadio Olímpico.
The result and the team’s World Cup Qualifying campaign were very much rescued by an 85th minute close range, in traffic tap-in from second half substitute Bobby Wood, a wild moment that stemmed from a set-piece.
Kellyn Acosta’s free-kick was saved brilliantly by Honduran goalkeeper Luis López, only for a brief scramble to ensue off the rebound, with Wood the beneficiary of a neatly flicked header from Jordan Morris after Matt Besler had acrobatically lofted the ball back into a dangerous area. Wood’s first touch while surrounded by Honduran bodies was just good enough, the finish much the same.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and our players were dead on the their feet as you could see,” said Arena. “We just had to battle, create a chance, and put it in the back of the net. And we did that.”
After Houston Dynamo striker Romell Quioto put Honduras in the lead in the 28th minute with a sweet right footed finish curled in off the far post, a shot that followed a disastrous, blooper reel moment in defense from Omar Gonzalez and a half-hearted attempt to help from his central partner Besler, the U.S. looked bewildered.
“I think we put our heads down a little bit after that goal,” Arena said. “We had to regroup at half-time. I thought the effort in the second half was very good, and we fought through the conditions.”
Frustrated on the ball and scrambling off it, the U.S. midfield and backline were caught flat-footed by the pace of the Honduran attackers on numerous occasions, every last starter in a red shirt appearing to be inhibited by the heat in San Pedro Sula, with temperatures in the mid 90s at game time with a humidity level of 63%.
Honduras had multiple opportunities to double their advantage, including two from Quioto in a three-minute span following his goal. Quioto made U.S. right-back Graham Zusi look silly at times, while his club and country teammate Alberth Elis, playing on the right-wing in this match, took 35-year-old left-back DaMarcus Beasley (Elis and Quioto’s teammate with the Dynamo) to the cleaners throughout the first 45 and beyond.
Wood’s late goal not only salvaged a crucial point for the United States (who now sit in 4th place in the hexagonal table, also known as the intercontinental playoff spot, after Panama leapfrogged the U.S. and Honduras with their 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago), the Hawaiian forward’s close range poke prevented his side from suffering back-to-back losses for the second time in this final round of the region’s qualifying cycle.
With the way the other results worked out, you must say it could have, and perhaps should have been a much bigger predicament for the U.S. team going into their final two hexagonal fixtures in October. Had Wood not scored and had Los Catrachos instead been able to hold on to their one goal lead, the U.S. would occupy the 5th spot in the six team table, on the outside looking in to the World Cup in Russia next summer.
Even with Panama winning, the 1-1 draw with Honduras sees the U.S. still in complete control of their own destiny. Wins at home to Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago would likely see the U.S. finish third and qualify for the World Cup automatically. Anything less than six points from those two games, and the repechaje with the 5th place representative from the Asian Football Confederation (likely either Australia or the incredible story that is the Syrian National Team) is a realistic prospect.
“The door for Russia,” Arena said at the end of his post-match press conference, “there’s not even a crack open right now. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to the World Cup. We’re real pleased to get a point. We’re going to get out of here and not look back.”
Arena also called the collective performance of his side on Tuesday “okay”.
Here are a couple more thoughts on the U.S. team after what transpired in San Pedro Sula.
Beasley must move on, or to another position: The aging veteran is a liability at left-back
He’s had one hell of a career. He’s played in four World Cups, the only American player ever to do so. He should not play in a fifth next summer, at least not as a defender.
Repeatedly beaten with simple big touches and afterburner ignition by his Houston Dynamo teammate Alberth Elis (the 21 year-old Honduran 14 years Beasley’s junior) Beasley was fortunate that Los Catrachos did not take full advantage of his lackluster performance, especially in the haze of the few minutes that followed the Honduras goal.
It would be something of a feel good story if Beasley were to make it all the way to Russia 2018, assuming the team makes it there in the first place. What’s the opposite of “feel good” is the question mark that is the American left-back position. Jorge Villafaña made way for Beasley after playing the full 90 in the 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on Friday.
Will Timmy Chandler make a return to the national team? Will Arena look to move Fabian Johnson back to the left side of the American backline? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then the liability that is Beasley might somehow still remain as a viable option at his current position.
Remember 20 year-old DaMarcus Beasley, the attacking left winger with a quality supply of vicious cutbacks to go with his bags of pace, the young man who took the open greens of South Korea by storm? What would a slight renaissance of that player offer this U.S. team as a speedy option off the bench?
Sure, he might not have quite the same jets down the left flank as he once did, but it’s worth a shot. At the very least, it will make certain that someone else will be playing left-back.
“I BELIEVE IN BOBBY WOOD”: Hamburg’s Hawaiian is an integral part of this U.S. team
Since bursting onto the scene in the summer of 2015 with his goal scoring exploits in two friendlies in Holland and Germany, Bobby Wood has been an interesting topic of debate around the American Soccer landscape.
Is he one of the most technically gifted strikers in recent United States history? Perhaps not, but is there anyone on this current squad with more heart, grit, and determination than Wood?
His goal against Honduras was anything but beautiful. It was a product of Wood’s physicality and awareness in tight spaces. His right to a place in the full-strength starting eleven will continue be argued by fans and pundits alike, but as we saw on Tuesday, Wood is certainly not the type of player who sees himself as “too big” to come off the bench. He performed the duties of a super-sub in San Pedro Sula, and he could very well do the same against Panama next month.
The battle for playing time up top between Wood, Jozy Altidore (who missed the clash with Honduras due to a one-match yellow card accumulation suspension), and Jordan Morris is an intriguing one. Regardless of how that battle plays out, Wood appears ready and willing to help the team in any way possible.
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