By Paul Kennedy, February 6
For the first time in the history of the Hexagonal, the USA has lost its opener. Or its opening away game, for that matter.
The 2-1 loss to Honduras also ended a string of three straight wins over the Catrachos in World Cup qualifying in San Pedro Sula dating back to 1965.
The defeat was all the more painful because the USA led after 35 minutes thanks to Clint Dempsey‘s well-taken goal. But it was one of the few times the USA threatened the Honduras defense with any kind of buildup.
The USA was let down by its defense on both goals. Much of the blame for the loss will go to the new partnership of Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez in the middle of the backline.
Yes, they were both caught napping and badly exposed on Jerry Bengtson‘s winning goal. But the USA had lost since ceded control of the game to the Catrachos.
WEARY GERMANS. It never looked good for the USA when Jurgen Klinsmann had to take off Danny Williams and Jermaine Jones around the hour mark.
Williams, who has lost his starting job at Hoffenheim, struggled with his composure. Jones, who had just come back for suspension with Schalke 04, was needed in the final half hour. His telling passes had set Dempsey for the goal and sprung Eddie Johnson for the best U.S. chance before that, Jozy Altidore‘s poke over the bar.
The game was a struggle for the other two German-Americans, Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson. Chandler was beaten time and again by Carlo Costly, and Johnson spent part of the second half in midfield. On the second Honduran goal, he could only watch as Oscar Boniek Garcia raced through the U.S. defense to feed Bengtson for the winning goal.
(If you’re wondering how players like Boniek Garcia and Bengtson — still in MLS pre-season — had their legs late in the game, they had the advantage of playing last month in the Copa Centroamericana, where Honduras finished second to Costa Rica.)
HEXAGONAL MATH. More important than the points the USA left on the table at the Olimpico are the three points Honduras took.
A tie or loss on Wednesday would have cranked up the pressure on the Catrachos as their next game is also at home — against Mexico. If Honduras had one or two points after two games, it would have been panic time for the Catrachos. Now they have three and are looking for six out of six after two games.
WHAT’S NEXT? On the other hand … the next match against Costa Rica on March 26 becomes a proverbial must-win game for the USA.
With road games against Mexico and Jamaica to follow, the USA suddenly finds itself behind the eight-ball. It won’t want to return to the Office — where it lost last September — and face Jamaica in June with less than three points after three games.
USA in Hexagonal
(Points after 3 Games):
What can Klinsmann do differently against Costa Rica? Not much. He’ll want to hope Steve Cherundolo (currently injured) is available again. And he’ll have to figure out what to do in midfield if Williams isn’t playing at Hoffenheim. (Which makes Maurice Edu‘s loan move to Turkey all the more important.) Don’t expect to see a change in the Chandler-Gonzalez, at least for the Costa Rica game.
But there’s almost no chance Landon Donovan — whose offensive spark the USA could have have used against Honduras — will be available by then if he indeed returns to action this year for the USA.
More than ever, Donovan is the elephant in the U.S. locker room.