Jozy Altidore was the hero for the United States, calmly slotting home a left-footed shot to hand the Stars & Stripes a 1-0 victory over Honduras on Tuesday night. With the victory the U.S. made it three wins in three World Cup Qualifying matches this June, ensuring the Americans top spot in the CONCACAF Hexagonal heading into the summer break.
Things kicked off in steamy Salt Lake City with the U.S. taking a calculating approach. Michael Bradley immediately took the reigns, dropping deep into the back four and dictating the play. The Roma midfielder poked and proded at the Honduran defense early on with a wide array of long balls to Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson that were just off target.
In the 7th minute the U.S. had their first scoring chance when Fabian Johnson found Eddie Johnson, who returned the favor with a defense splitting pass that Fabian Johnson corralled to play a tasty cross that the Honduran defense headed out for a corner. Graham Zusi’s resulting corner kick curled right into the sight-line of Clint Dempsey who snapped his header just wide.
In the 16th minute Fabian Johnson was back at it, this time receiving a pass from Dempsey and curling a 40 yard cross directly onto the foot of Eddie Johnson. The Seattle Sounders forward struck his shot hard and low but Honduran goal-keeper Noel Valladares was quick to ground to make the save.
Two minutes later Zusi’s quick throw-in found an unmarked Bradley, who lofted a perfect service into the box for Dempsey. The Spurs man needed only to re-direct the pass but couldn’t get his head on it and another chance went begging.
Honduras were content absorbing the early pressure and looking for the lively Roger Espinoza and former MLS rookie of the year, Andy Najar, in transition. Time after time Los Catrachos hoofed long balls up the pitch to Najar but Fabian Johnson and Eddie Johnson did well to close down the dangerous winger.
In the 29th minute Najar switched himself from left to right wing and the 20 year old nearly took advantage of the opportunity, coasting by Brad Evans and Omar Gonzalez on the dribble but his touch let himself down as the ball crossed the by-line for a goal kick.
Reconnaissance on Honduras must have revealed a weakness in the air because the U.S. continued to look for the deep ball over the top as Bradley served up Jozy Altidore, Dempsey and Brad Evans to no avail. It was an odd strategy given the success the U.S. was having down the left side through Fabian Johnson and Eddie Johnson.
Things remained quiet until just before the half-time whistle when Matt Besler’s horrid giveaway sent Najar flying in on goal but his rip was confidently parried away by goal-keeper Tim Howard.
The second half began with both sides trading possesion before Evans found Zusi in the middle of the pitch and Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios took him down. Zusi popped up for the free-kick and put in a peach of a pass that stuck on Evans’ head but Valladares was well positioned for the save.
In the 59th minute the U.S. appeared to have their breakthrough when Howard’s outlet throw to Eddie Johnson was played on to Dempsey, who slipped a cheeky pass to Altidore for a beautiful finish. But the linesman’s flag was up and replays showed it was the correct call as Altidore was off-sides by a few inches.
Four minutes later the insatiable Zusi scrambled to the by-line and stabbed a tricky cross that nicked the post, deflecting into the path of Altidore and Valladares. The Honduran goal-keeper went down, Dempsey’s ensuing header glanced off Palacio’s hand and Valladares popped up to make the save.
In the 70th minute the U.S. came close yet again as Eddie Johnson found Zusi in the box and his delicate cross was met by the head of Dempsey but Valladares was once again up to the task.
Two minutes later, Valladares’ luck would run out. A quick free kick resulted in a flurry of one touch passes that saw Dempsey find Zusi in the box and the Sporting KC man brilliantly flicked on to Fabian Johnson, who crossed to Altidore for the one-time finish. It was a sensational, eight pass, up-tempo vignette that Barcelona themselves would have been proud of.
Geoff Cameron came on for Jones and Brad Davis for Zusi, with both men working hard to preserve the victory. Cameron dominated the midfield utilizing his under-appreciated vision to find Altidore at the top of the box. The AZ man cut in, leaving his defender in the dust, and hooked a tempting left footed shot on goal that nearly gave him the brace.
As time wore down Honduras grew feisty but was unable to produce any true trouble for the U.S. With the victory the Americans sit on top of the Hexagonal table with 13 points in 6 matches, 5 points clear of second place Costa Rica (who faces Panama later tonight) and third place Mexico.
The U.S. are now on break until the World Cup Qualifiers resume next September.