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Big opportunity ahead as United States faces Honduras in World Cup qualifying action

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SALT LAKE CITY – The United States has done such great work over the last two weeks, scooping up valuable points and invaluable momentum in the reach for a seventh consecutive World Cup, putting itself in such swell positioning ahead of a summer international break.

It really would be such a shame to fumble away all that momentum now.

So manager Jurgen Klinsmann is stressing the need to finish strong, to take care of the details and to demonstrate the kind of 24/7, ultimately focused regional watchdog approach – the one he has worked to build over two years – Tuesday against a vulnerable Honduran bunch.

Klinsmann’s team has so much going for it at the moment, starting with the momentum of a three-game winning streak. A 4-3 victory over Germany may have been a meaningless friendly, but it became a springboard of confidence before a highly meaningful World Cup qualifier win in Jamaica, then a boss-man performance in last week’s 2-0 win in Seattle over Panama.

The praise flew effusive for that one, probably the most complete match yet in 22 months under the German manager. Plus, it had the crowd sing-songy with the “We are going to Brazil! …. ” bit.

Not yet. Not exactly. But the United States sits majestically in first place in the six-team final round group, with three of the final five matches at home. “At home” is massive in these qualifiers as the United States has not lost one on U.S. soil since 2001. The team is 22-0-2 in that time.

Kickoff at sold-out Rio Tinto is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN  and in Spanish on UniMas.

“As you see, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said Monday. “We’re playing really good soccer. When we’re losing the ball, we’re fighting hard to win in right back real quick, making good decisions in the attacking third and scoring goals. It’s about keeping that going and, like Jurgen said, keeping that consistency.”

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(MORE: U.S.-Honduras lineup prediction)

Generally speaking, Honduras always looked like the tougher of two opponents in the States over the past week. Panama, frankly, proved a pretty tame opponent in last week’s memorable encounter in Seattle.

Honduras has talent to go with a true grit and big belief, and it was no accident that the Catrachos qualified for World Cup 2010. Two years later the under-23s were a real revelation during the London Olympics.

But the team has critical absences, notably to commanding center back Victor Bernardez. He would have been the chief obstacle for U.S. striker Jozy Altidore, the young U.S. striker who has shushed his critics with a goal in each of the last three U.S. matches.

Starting midfielder Luis Garrido is also suspended for Honduras and forward Jerry Bengtson, who struck the game-winner past Tim Howard in February, has left the team in playing-time feud with manager Luis Suarez. Finally, Honduras will also miss injured, wiry attacker and winger Oscar Boniek Garcia, who gave the United States real problems last time these guys met.

(MORE: Which is the bigger personnel loss for Honduras)

That was in Honduras in February, a 2-1 win for Honduras that ignited the latest predictable moment of “crisis” for U.S. Soccer. It happens once or twice each World Cup cycle, when the fandom and the chattering class fall over backward in disgust as the United States stumbles in one of these tricky Central American or Caribbean.

The United States is in such a vastly different place for tonight’s match inside Rio Tinto Stadium, situated wonderfully at the base of the Wasatch Mountains and home to Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.

Klinsmann has lineup choices ahead: Who replaces DaMarcus Beasley (suspended due to yellow card accumulation)? Does midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones get back into the lineup following his concussion recovery? Is there a place for Eddie Johnson, who held his own along the right in Seattle last week?

Presumably, Graham Zusi will be back into his spot along the right side after missing the win over Panama due to yellow card build-up.

(MORE: Jermaine Jones cleared to play)

The United States is already well positioned and another win Tuesday would leave the drive for Brazil 2014 in glorious shape. In all likelihood, Klinsmann’s team would need just one more win in the final four matches to officially qualify for Brazil. They could probably even make it with just a couple of ties – not that anybody wants to limp into a World Cup leaking momentum that way.

But first things first, and that means taking care of business Tuesday in Utah, where it will be windy and quite warm in the thin air. Honduras will be physical and tactically well organized, probably looking to concede possession and make the United States work especially hard once they reach the scoring third of the field.

“There is no easy game at all anymore,” Klinsmann said of the CONCACAF region. “You first have to somehow break them down, score your first goal and go from there. If you don’t break them down, which happened down in Mexico a few times, you struggle. Because teams are physically very strong, they keep the pace high with you, they keep the rhythm and they are tactically very well organized. They all go behind the ball once they lose it. There’s always a wall of nine or ten guys behind the ball.”

(MORE: United States notes ahead of the match)

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VIDEO: Mourinho again harps on Manchester United performance despite result

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The third straight 1-1 draw for Manchester United has left Jose Mourinho little more than a broken record.

Everton scored on a late penalty to even things up, and it gave the Portuguese manager even more fodder for his tiresome narrative.

“We were the best team by far,” Mourinho said. “But we didn’t win. We had chances for 2-0, we had the ball off the post, and then we concede a goal in the last minute.”

[ RECAP: Everton grabs a point against Manchester United on a late penalty ]

When asked if his team dropped off at the end, he rejected that notion, and instead decided to lament a perceived double standard among fans and the media. Mourinho feels the focus is always on a negative, whether that is the result or the performance. “When my team wins matches playing a different [less entertaining] style of football, then what matters is the style of football, not the results. You have in these moment teams in the Premier League playing defensive and counter-attack football and getting results. That is phenomenal, in your words. When my team is playing extremely well, the results are more important.”

“I am happy that my team is playing really well, even in difficult matches like today, and it’s a problem for us that we are not getting what we deserve and it’s a problem for us that we have a position in the table that has no relation with the quality of the football we are showing.”

[ RELATED: Should Marcus Rojo have been sent off? ]

He would not comment on either of the major refereeing decisions, those being the Marcos Rojo yellow card in the 16th minute and the late penalty whistled on Marouane Fellaini.

VIDEO: Howe says Bournemouth hero Fraser “deserved his opportunity”

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Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe had time to collect himself after the Cherries stunned Liverpool, coming back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in injury time.

He was very praiseworthy of the opponents, who appeared to have an easy day after scoring twice early on before Bournemouth stormed back later.

“It was a great game, obviously from our perspective because we won, but I thought Liverpool showed their quality in the first half,” Howe said. “I thought they were excellent, but we showed a great attitude and never gave up.”

After falling behind 2-0 thanks to a pair of errors by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, it was a tough road to halftime, and although they got one back, Liverpool responded quickly to again restore the two-goal lead at 3-1. It looked bleak for the Cherries at home.

“It was a tough afternoon,” Howe said. “We knew the quality of Liverpool, we knew how they played. They did it very well, and we didn’t, we were flat, and it really took our substitutes to have a big impact in the game and liven us up.”

Finally, the Cherries boss said that he had his eye on the hero Ryan Fraser for some time, and that he knew he was ready to take his chance. “He’s been training like that for a few weeks now, I think he’s deserved his opportunity. He came on the pitch and gave us that belief.” The 22-year-old came on and scored his first Premier League goal as well as assisted two others in the comeback.

VIDEO: Should Marcos Rojo have been sent off for two-footed challenge?

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The box score only shows a yellow card for Marcos Rojo in the 16th minute, but the game tells a much different tale.

Early on in a physical battle, minutes after Gareth Barry seemed to have been let off without punishment for a hard foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rojo left his feet and flew in with both studs up on Idrissa Gueye. Referee Michael Oliver showed him only a caution, but replays showed that Rojo was airborne for a moment, and his crunching challenge landed directly on Gueye’s right leg.

[ MORE: Zlatan Ibrahimovic puts Manchester United 1-0 up on Everton ]

Looking at the moment of impact, it seems a miracle that Gueye was able to pop straight up from the challenge without so much as a scratch, as it could have been much, much worse had Rojo’s feet landed in a vulnerable spot on the Everton midfielder’s leg. Referees never like to condemn a team to such a disadvantage in the early stages of a game, but this seemed to be an incredibly dangerous moment.

Everton ended up with a 1-1 draw in the match after former Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini conceded a late penalty just two minutes after coming off the bench, but the Toffees likely would have benefitted even greater from playing 74 minutes with a man advantage.

Did Rojo deserve a red card? Or did Michael Oliver get the decision right? The guys in studio at halftime seemed to agree that Rojo should have been sent to the showers.

Everton 1-1 Manchester United: Fellaini concedes late penalty

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Jose Mourinho has complained all month that Manchester United is the unluckiest team in the Premier League, and he will have more fodder for his rant – deserved or not – as the Red Devils conceded a late penalty as they drop points at Everton in a 1-1 draw.

It appeared that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s goal in the final minutes of the first half would be enough, but Everton was gifted a way back as a lumbering Marouane Fellaini conceded a penalty just two minutes after coming off the bench, and the game finished level despite a flurry of activity down the stretch.

The game had a chippy start, with a number of early thumping challenges. Referee Michael Oliver missed an easy decision, as Marcus Rojo found only yellow for his 16th minute lunge on Idrissa Gueye, clearly deserving red as he lept off both feet and went studs-in on the 50/50 ball, an incredibly dangerous challenge lucky not to leave the Everton man with a lasting impact.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

As tensions rose early, the game opened up. United seemed to have the best chances forward as they launched balls into the box, but struggled to find the final ball as the half-hour mark passed. The visitors came close to threading players through, such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan on 37 minutes, but Ramiro Fuenes Mori – in for the benched captain Phil Jagielka – made a vital sliding tackle to end the chance.

Everton, meanwhile, struggled to get out of its own half as United pressed hard throughout the first half. Finally, just three minutes before the break, Manchester United got the breakthrough. A long ball from Anthony Martial from United’s own half met a streaking Ibrahimovic guarded by Funes Mori. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg inexplicably came off his line, leaving the goal gaping for Zlatan to karate-kick the ball in. The ball took forever to cross the line, bouncing four times and touching the crossbar and a post before it tricked in. Funes Mori gave it a run, but having given up on Zlatan’s touch, he was just too late to prevent the goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everton didn’t seem too incisive until suddenly their best chance of the game came in on 53 minutes. A one-two between Belgians Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku saw the former in on goal, but David De Gea produced a fabulous reflex save with his right leg to keep out the shot. United could have gone 2-0 up as Ander Herrera volleyed a bouncing ball on net on the hour mark, but he clattered the crossbar with his powerful shot.

The Toffees made the first change on 65 minutes with Tom Cleverley coming off to home fan jeers, replaced by Gerard Deulofeu. Neither team had a big moment as time ticked down, and Jose Mourinho looked to bring on fresh legs as he introduced Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

As the clock wound down, it was a substitute to make an impact, but not in his own team’s favor. Fellaini, on the pitch just two minutes before he thumped into Gueye in the penalty area, and Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Leighton Baines slotted home the penalty just past the outstretched gloves of de Gea, and Everton were level.

The home side, awoken by the opportunity for more, lurched forward in huge spurts as the game wound down. Despite the pressure, United held well down the stretch, even producing a counter-attack that nearly produced a winner on the other end if not for a vital interception by substitute Mason Holgate.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The game represents the third 1-1 draw in a row for Manchester United in league play despite good midweek form in the cup. They sit on 21 points in sixth position in the Premier League table, now 13 back of the top of the table. Meanwhile, the point for Everton at home is also somewhat disappointing, as they’ve won just one in their last eight and have 20 points in eighth.