SoccerNation’s Nate Abaurrea is on site at Avaya Stadium in San Jose this weekend, as the United States Men’s National Team prepares to take on Honduras in a massively important World Cup Qualifying match.
It is the first World Cup Qualifying match being held in the Bay Area in over 20 years, the last one seeing the U.S. defeat Canada 3-0 at Stanford Stadium in March of 1997.
Some are hesitating to call it a “must-win” for the Americans against Honduras, but anything less than three points will surely be an unwelcome setback for a U.S. team that currently sits in dead last of the six team group. There is still plenty of time to turn the tide, but a win at home against a Honduras side who notched a loss and a win in their opening two matches looks to be closer to expectation than hope.
With the match kicking off just before 8 PM PT on Friday night, there was a palpable buzz in the air around the ground, as journalists and broadcasters from both countries made their way into Avaya Stadium on Thursday.
Both managers, Long Island’s own Bruce Arena on the U.S. side and Honduras gaffer Jorge Luis Pinto (a native of Colombia who has been in charge of 15 different clubs and countries over his 33 year coaching career, including Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup), young American star Christian Pulisic, and USMNT great of the 90’s Alexi Lalas all spoke to SoccerNation. Here’s what they had to say on the eve of the big day in the Bay Area, beginning with a few of Arena’s opening statement at his Thursday press conference.
Bruce Arena: “We’ve had a good week of preparation. With the circumstances that we’ve been dealt, it’s important that we get three points.”
Arena Speaking on the mood of the squad going into the game: “Honestly, we’d like to play right now.”
Arena speaking on his own emotional well being: “I feel great. I wish I could play in the game.”
Arena discussed the inclusion in the U.S. team of Southern California native Jorge Villafaña directly with SoccerNation. Villafaña is making his first appearance on a World Cup Qualifying roster after recently marking his first cap, appearing in both of the January Camp friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica. Arena was asked what he felt Villafaña did in those friendlies, as well as the January Camp as a whole, to earn a spot on the team.
“Well I’ve known Jorge for a number of years, going back to his time at Chivas USA and with the Portland Timbers. I’ve always thought he was a good player. The January Camp really just supported that thinking. We all felt he deserved to be called in for these qualifiers.”
Last Friday in Tijuana, following Santos Laguna’s 1-1 draw with Xolos in Liga MX, Villafaña told SoccerNation that he was “living a dream”. Arena sees that as a mindset that is much bigger than one player.
“I think they’re all living a dream. But as for Jorge, I’m very happy for him. He’s a good young man. He deserves every bit of this.”
(Honduras Manager Jorge Luis Pinto was asked by SoccerNation if there was one or two players on the U.S. side that could draw some extra attention from the Honduran team. Professor Pinto highlighted his team’s focus in an elegantly simple fashion.)
Jorge Luis Pinto (translated): “There are a lot of players that we will be paying attention to. They have many dangerous weapons. They’ve got guys on the wings. They’ve got guys in the middle. We need to be strong on the left, strong in the middle, and strong on the right. Soccer is a team game. We can’t focus in on any one player. We need to focus on every player. We must stay organized and play as a team.”
(Much of the individual based intrigue around the U.S. Soccer scene since the turn of the new year has been centered around Christian Pulisic, who has been lighting up the pitch for Borussia Dortmund in both the German Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League. Arena noted that he has very little experience at the international level, while adding that he reminds him an awful lot of another youngster he once coached for the U.S. by the name of Landon Donovan. While certainly grateful for his coach’s words, Pulisic had slightly mixed feelings about that particular comparison.)
Christian Pulisic: “He was an idol of mine [Donovan]. It’s an honor. But I want to be my own player.”
(Pulisic spoke about what one reporter called “added pressure” on the backs of the U.S. team after their poor start to the hexagonal.)
“I don’t see it as added pressure. What’s done is done. We can’t change past losses. We just have to win.”
SoccerNation shared a fantastic conversation with USMNT great Alexi Lalas, who is in San Jose covering the match for FOX Sports. (You can find the full podcast edition of the SoccerNation Sitdown with Alexi Lalas and Nate Abaurrea here) Unlike some of his media colleagues and members of the U.S. team, Lalas did not shy away from calling the match against Honduras a “must-win”.
Alexi Lalas: “I am going to stick to calling this a MUST-WIN. So much so that if they don’t win, we should just not play the rest of the hex and give the spot to another team. That’s how important this is.”
(While he was certainly adding some theatrical and comical flavor to his point, Lalas hammered home the idea of this game against Honduras representing a major opportunity for Bruce Arena, and for a new era with the USMNT to get off on the right foot.)
“For this team, for the American Soccer community, and for Bruce Arena, this is a huge moment. I think it will symbolize this resurrection, or the start of the resurrection that he has been paid and hired to be the architect of. It doesn’t look too good if in that first competitive game out, especially a home game which we traditionally win against a team like Honduras, if you don’t come out of the shoots and get those three points.”
(For full matchday coverage from Avaya Stadium in San Jose, be sure to follow @soccer_nation & @NateAbaurrea on Twitter, and @soccerloco & @nate_abaurrea on Instagram.)