This is where we typically post a “Stock Up, Stock Down” piece, assessing which players’ personal standing rose, and whose fell during an important U.S. international match.
Clearly, an opener in final round World Cup qualifying deserves ear-marking as “important.”
Trouble is, as the United States picked a terrible time to deliver a real clunker, it’s hard to see any stock rising from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in San Pedro Sula.
A few might have held serve. Clint Dempsey, scorer of the lone U.S. goal, comes to mind. Otherwise …
Let’s look at who needed more out there at Estadio Olimpico.
Omar Gonzalez: In his first World Cup qualifying start, Gonzalez’s defending was usually good enough, that killer case of ball watching on Honduras’ game winner (we talked more about it in the previous post) as the obvious exception.
The bigger problem was in his passing from the back. Looking somewhat nervous initially, the LA Galaxy man completed just four of 10 passes before halftime, and that’s simply not good enough.
Meanwhile, for all his physical ability, Gonzalez’s game just lacks that little bit of maturity. He’s got to find it fast, or he will lose Klinsmann’s trust.
Danny Williams: If the young German-American is going to be Klinsmann’s holding midfield go-to, he’s got to raise that game a notch. Williams simply was not assertive enough, unwilling to scramble some eggs in there, to apply a little more selective midfield pressure and, generally, make that area a real SOB for the home team.
The heat surely had something to do with timid tackling and an outing that lacked the intensity and the bite commensurate of the moment. (It’s final round World Cup qualifying!) He has to find a way to impact the game, if not through clear distribution, then through knocking a couple of guys on their Honduran backsides.
Perhaps it was sheer fatigue, but Maurice Edu came in to replace Williams early in the second half; we seldom see changes in the holding midfield spot when things are going well.
Michael Bradley: The Roma man actually did OK. The problem here was in his effectiveness compared to Roger Espinoza, the engine room of Honduras’ busy midfield. Espinoza delivered the kind of commanding, driving, leave-it-all-out-there performance we usually see from Bradley, probably the most important figure in a U.S. shirt now.
Bottom line: We’ve seen better from Bradley, and will again.
Eddie Johnson: Stationed on the left wing last fall against Antigua and Barbuda, and then again at home against Guatemala, Johnson was adequate as a left-sided attacker, one who worked inside frequently. But I warned back then that it wasn’t a solid plan against tougher competition ahead in the final round of regional qualifying. Sure enough …
He just isn’t strong enough in possession to play that close to his own goal. And he certainly isn’t a creative influence in there. Sacha Kljestan’s introduction for Johnson in the 65th minute was surely about improving the non-existent U.S. midfield possession.
That was a bad choice by Klinsmann and a tough ask for Johnson, so we should probably limit his personal demerits.
Sacha Kljestan and Graham Zusi: Both players came in as second half subs. We think. Let me check …
Yes! The box score says so.
If this is to be their role, as second-half game-changers, they’ll need something a little more zippy than what we saw Wednesday.
In fairness, the heat and humidity had zapped so much life from what was a pretty messy, shapeless match all along. And with such humble U.S. passing out of the back, combined with the fact that neither U.S. outside back dared get forward (they probably wouldn’t have had the legs or lungs to get back) there were limited chances for either man. Still, it’s on them to find a way.
Tim Howard: As mentioned in the previous post, if he comes flying off the line for a through ball, he has to get it. That’s it.