CHICAGO (Saturday, June 6, 2009) -- The United States men gave up an early goal once again, but came back to dominate Honduras for much of the match and escape with a 2-1 victory tonight before a near sellout of 55,647 in Soldier Field, a majority of which were wearing Honduran blue and white.
Winning the CONCACAF World Cup qualifier was crucial for the Americans after dropping Wednesday night's qualifier at Costa Rica 3-1 with a poor effort. At the mid-way point of the six-nation, 10-match final round for the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, the U.S. is in second place at 3-1-1 with 10 points. The top three finishers qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while the fourth team enters a playoff for another berth.
Once again, a midfield miscue put the U.S. in an early hole but, unlike against Costa Rica, the Americans came back strongly and dominated the action, especially in the second half. Still, they again had problems in the final third and could not make the final pass or connect on an open shot, allowing the match to stay close.
"A tough game for sure," relieved U.S. coach Bob Bradley said somewhat wistfully. "It's not easy when you start the game and give up a goal the first time the other team comes down the field. But we finished strong and it was an important three points (in the standings). The one thing you try to get across to a team is that you can have a great plan, but the ability to deal with the game as it unfolds, the ability to respond. . . That is what the game is about."
Just as was the case Wednesday in Costa Rica, the U.S. could not control the midfield early. In the fifth minute, U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey lost the ball in the midfield to Wilson Palacios, who fed Carlos Costley to quickly advance on the American goal. He was not closed down by the U.S. defensive midfield, and put a hard low shot past Tim Howard for a 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately, the U.S. fought back and kept the Honduras back on its heels for the rest of the half. After wasting several good changes against the packed-in Catrachos, a bouncing U.S. pass into the center of penalty area was handled by Honduras defender Maynor Figueroa. Landon Donovan calmly blasted the subsequent the penalty kick into the top right corner of the net to draw the U.S. level at 1-1 in the 43rd minute.
The second half proceeded much as the first half had with the U.S. pressing forward constantly against a packed-in Honduran defense. The Americans, however, failed to connect on the final pass and squandered good chances. Then, in the 66th minute, Donovan sent a corner kick from the left side to the far post. Dempsey elevated and headed it back into the middle where defender Carlos Bocanegra dove low and headed the bouncing ball into the goal to make it 2-1.
Substitutes were important for the U.S. Midfielder Benny Feilhaber came on at halftime and played a strong second half. "I'm still not 90-minutes fit," he explained. "I missed more than six months with my injury and have been back in training only about two months. I'm glad I could help the team tonight, but I still need more work to be completely back."
Jay DeMerit was rushed in when Bocanegra felt a twinge in his right hamstring and was a solid performer in the final hectic minutes when Honduras pushed forward hard. Likewise, DaMarcus Beasley, who had come on in the midfield, was forced again to assume the left-back role when Jonathan Bornstein cramped up and played much better then he did against Costa Rica.
Bradley made four changes from his lineup against Costa Rica. Bornstein and Jonathan Spector took over the outside defender positions, Ricardo Clark went into the midfield, and Conor Casey started up top.
Bradley had a number of changes forced on him tonight. Striker Brian Ching and defender Frankie Hedjuk, both who were counted on for these qualifiers, are suffering from hamstring strains pulls that will also keep them out of the Confederations Cup the next two weeks in South Africa. Midfielder Maurice Edu is back in Scotland recuperating from major reconstructive knee surgery he had this week. Midfielder Michael Bradley was not available, serving a one-match, yellow-cards suspension after received his second yellow of the tournament against Costa Rica.
The U.S. still needs to find a better scoring touch. It dominated time of possession, especially in the second half, but the offense continues to be slight out of sync in the final third. Still, the Americans left Chicago with the three points they badly needed.