After a disappointing day in Honduras, there are few pluses for the United States Men’s National Team to fall back on. While loss at a good Honduran team is nothing to sound alarms about, the way that it happened will be troubling. Not only did the U.S. score first, but for much of the match, the U.S. seemed to be managing their way to a result. But a fabulous overhead kick from Juan Carlos Garcia and a 78th minute defensive collapse handed the U.S. their first opening loss in final round history, with New England Revolution attacker Jerry Bengston giving Honduras a 2-1 in San Pedro Sula.
Perhaps more disappointing that the team’s result were the performances of the U.S.’s component parts. Tim Howard made some nice saves but failed to effectively communicate with his defense on the game-winning goal. An inexperienced defense possessing little familiarity with each other looked uncertain and ineffective, no more so than on Bengston’s goal. The midfield lost their battle with the Roger Espinoza-led Hondurans, while the States’ attackers failed to make an impact beyond Clint Dempsey’s 36th minute opener.
In one of the match’s limited bright spots, midfielder Michael Bradley was the States’ best player, even if he had little success limiting Espinoza’s effectiveness. Still, Bradley’s contributions far outweighed his teammates’. As always, his presence in the middle provided a consistent, settling presence for a team that often has trouble acting decisively moving toward goal. As he was moved slightly forward throughout the second half, his distribution from side-to-side helped try to attack the Honduran fullbacks. As the match went on, Bradley became more influential defensively, contesting some of the second balls that went unchallenged in the first half.
Bradley’s 54 successful passes were 20 more than the U.S.’s next most-prolific passer (Dempsey). He completed them at a 83 percent clip. He and Dempsey had the team’s only shots on goal, while Bradley was also responsible for five recovered balls, two interceptions, and two blocked shots.
There may not have been that many Man of the Match candidates from the U.S.’s ranks, but Bradley was certainly the best of them, even if it wasn’t his best match. But as is usually the case when the States play, Bradley was the team’s best player.
Man of the Match is just the start. Stay with ProSoccerTalk throughout the day as we break down the result in Honduras.
One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.
Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.
At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.
That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:
HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.
AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.
I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.
In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”
HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.
I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.
Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.
The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.
John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.
That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.
Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.
The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.