Final round World Cup qualifying is off to the rockiest of starts, and the disillusionment with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will surely reach critical mass after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras.
Overall, the United States was on its way to managing out a 1-1 draw, which would have been a satisfactory result. But what could have been a routine defensive play in the back fell apart in spectacularly and well …
Here’s what we can take away from the match in hot and humid San Pedro Sula:
Why the loss hurts:
As we’ve said before, a loss on the road in World Cup qualifying is hardly a deal-killer. Nine matches remain, including five at home, where the United States has been next to unbeatable through the last few qualifying cycles.
But the final round qualifying schedule, which fell so unfavorably to the United States, adds pressure. Consider that the United States may well lose its next match road match, at Mexico. That makes the March 22 contest at home (in Denver) against Costa Rica an absolute must have victory for Klinsmann and Co.
Otherwise, the United States could go into final round Match Day 4 with zero wins. That would be very, very bad.
The bold linecup selection that backfired:
You can’t say Klinsmann is afraid of changes or bold gambits. Lots of them, in fact, especially considering such a short camp to rehearse the adjustments. Jozy Alitdore’s inclusion at striker over the usually preferred Herculez Gomez fell as a surprise.
Same for Eddie Johnson as a starter, once again nominally along the left, as we saw toward the end of semifinal qualifying. But none of the changes ticked the shocker box like the eye-catching choice across the back line. Klinsmann adjudged that the future was now in making a brave switcharoo: captain Carlos Bocanegra took a seat on the bench as Omar Gonzalez was blooded in the harshest of CONCACAF environments in his first World Cup qualifier appearance.
Gonzalez, of course, just came off his first extended U.S. camp. On Honduras’ goal, it wasn’t so much that Gonzalez was in there; the problem was more about someone not taking charge. Had Bocanegra been there, perhaps communication – so important from the center backs in a flat four defense – would have been sharper and catastrophe could have been dodged.
Lots of blame to go around on the winning goal:
Tim Howard is everyone’s hero, but he didn’t do well on the home team’s game-winner. Bottom line there, if the U.S. goalkeeper comes for that ball, he’s as to get it. Period.
Meanwhile, Geoff Cameron needed to clear the danger. Period. Even if Howard was screaming for it – we may know more later after hearing from the U.S. men – no one would fault Cameron for putting that menacing, sneaky little through ball somewhere into urban San Pedro Sula.
And then there was Gonzalez caught ball watching rather than tracking behind the play.
Credit to Honduras’ Oscar Boniek Garcia, the Houston Dynamo jitterbug attacker for his committed work to create that goal. But from the U.S. side, that goal in three words: What a mess.
Klinsmann lined up his team in a modified 4-4-2, with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson sometimes swapping positions, striker for left-sided midfielder.
The United States did a reasonable job of pressing up high, as a unit, which is the only way to make that effective, of course. On the other hand, getting the ball back doesn’t help much if you can’t do much with it.
The U.S. passing out of the back: pedestrian.
The U.S. passing in midfield: uninspired.
Still, strategically, the United was managing out a solid, tactical match in hot and humid conditions. (So debilitating that Klinsmann had used all three subs by the 66th minute.) The visitors sat deep and waited for chances, like the 29th minute hook-up between Johnson on the left and Jozy Altidore, who needed just a little more separation from his defender to get a little better effort on goal.
No, the Americans didn’t create a bucket full of chances, and Honduras had far more possession. But neither did the home team bother Howard often. Well, except for …
Bad defending on the first Honduras goal, too:
We saw shades of USMNT 2012 on the Hondurans first half goal. The overhead kick finish by Juan Carlos Garcia was wonderful, no doubt, and all credit for getting his team back into the match with something truly special. But it should not have gotten there.
The marking and inability to organize and react quickly after the initial corner kick clearance is disappointing at best, perhaps inexcusable for a team that wants to be at a higher level. It might be tempting to say this is what you get from having two inexperienced center backs, but the fact is that goals were allowed in 2012 where the same missing element (failure to organize quickly after a restart) was in play.
Klinsmann warned that it was all about being competitive, vigilant and alert. His men were anything but as Maynor Figueroa was uncontested to chest down a ball 14 yards from goal, arranging Garcia’s equalizer.
Jermaine Jones good, Jermaine Jones bad:
Dempsey’s first half goal was great stuff, a clever run to match a precise, technical finish. But it was only the punctuation mark on a great sentence, so to speak, one written by midfielder Jermaine Jones.
Jones is among the chief whipping boys of U.S. fans, and for good reason. Klinsmann loves him some Jones for the infectious warrior spirit and ability to inspire that fearlessness in others. But the man’s technical ability and speed of play kills the United States possession time and again. It certainly did on plenty of occasions Wednesday.
Klinsmann contends that Jones has game-changing passes in him, and the Schalke man showed it for one very important moment in San Pedro Sula, arranging Dempsey spectacularly with the best U.S. pass of the afternoon.