SANDY, Utah – How the United States men did individually in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium:
GK Tim Howard (7): Was only asked to do something beyond routine when Andy Najar got loose late in the first half, parrying the Honduran blast, and in stoppage time in pushing away a ball with a heavy-impact collision surely coming. Otherwise, claimed a couple of potentially dicey, low crosses after the break and beyond that … just offered some pats on the back here and there for the inexperienced center backs in front of him.
RB Brad Evans (5): As a stop-gap defender, the Seattle Sounders’ utility knife did fine once again. But there were definitely times when Evans needed to be more aggressive with the ball, to turn and take on a defender rather than playing balls safely rearward, to push further up the wing the way Fabian Johnson was on the other side. This is where Steve Cherundolo was so sorely missed – because the veteran right back would have been more comfortable in adding further push up the right side.
CB Omar Gonzalez (6): Still some wobbles here and there in his game, like the bad give-away that led to an early Honduran free kick in a spot where no team wants to face them. Afterward was happy to distribute with the safety cap on, so to speak, allowing Michael Bradley and Matt Besler to direct the chancy stuff the rest of the half. A couple of nice passes early in the second half seemed to restore confidence to his efforts out of the back.
CB Matt Besler (7): Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, who was better than his central partner in this one. (And some of those clearances were quite important ones, not the easiest to handle, either.) Easily the better passer of the two central stoppers. One hiccup was a big one, dispossessed by Andy Najar, and the former D.C. United midfielder got a good chance out of it.
LB Fabian Johnson (7): Once again tucked into the left back slot (for the suspended Damarcus Beasley), Johson may have been the top U.S. attacker in the first half, combining well with Eddie Johnson in front of him and delivering several well-placed balls into scoring areas. Honduras paid more attention to Johnson after the break, but he picked his spots and was dashing once again into position as Graham Zusi dummied Clint Dempsey’s through ball, leaving it for the U.S. left back to arrange a game-winner. Defensively he was solid, with just a couple of lost challenges.
MF Jermaine Jones (5): Jones has been sharper with the ball; a few too many forced efforts toward Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore marked this night. And giving up two free kicks in the defensive third could have turned to disaster. He did have his moments, like winning a bunch of midfield headers, and like a big 33rd-minute run through the heart of the Honduran defense. That one earned the United States a dangerous free kick and saw the first visitor booked. Managed to keep his cool despite some rough stuff inside. And Tuesday saw a return to some of the old communication issues with Bradley, as in, who holds the screening job and who pushes forward?
MF Michael Bradley (6): As usual, he called the shots in midfield, although finding the holes in a well-organized defensive midfield triangle (within Honduras’ 4-3-3) proved tricky. Pushed forcefully with the ball through midfield twice in the first half as a useful change of pace, something Bradley appears to have added to his game lately. Tried the Route 1 approach a few times with marginal success as the United States probed for ways through. Mostly, Bradley was his usual tidy and considered self in possession.
RW Graham Zusi (7): He was one of the main guys who “turned up the tempo,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said, after intermission. Rather tame in the first 45 (other than those sharp set piece hits, which are almost always well targeted), Zusi found more places to be effective. He suffered in the first 45 a bit from Evans’ inability to get forward more aggressively, which would have prevented Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre from latching onto Zusi so tightly.
MF Clint Dempsey (6): While Dempsey didn’t always find ways to be useful beyond the 18, and while he wasn’t always expertly linked into Altidore’s movements, he certainly managed to find opportunities near goal – which really is what Dempsey’s game is about. Probably should have done better with an uncontested header off Zusi’s corner kick just 8 minutes in. On the other hand, he probably should have earned a penalty kick during that mad scramble-jamble of the 64th minute, when his header near goal hit Wilson Palacios’ arm. Dempsey did work more into the game in the second half, and it was his shrewd through ball that sprang the only goal.
LW Eddie Johnson (6): Started on the left, swapping sides from last week but in the same essential role. And he swapped liberally with Zusi throughout Tuesday. Drew an early foul for a U.S. free kick (but soon fouled Roger Espinoza to create an early, dangerous free kick for the visitors.) Found ways to put his speed to good use at times and was generally good in possession. Johnson did fall asleep once on defense, and was beaten here and there, but that’s what you get when you ask a striker to fulfill additional defensive duties as a winger/midfielder.
FW Jozy Altidore (8): Where would the United States qualifying be right now if not for this guy? There was precious little room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post, but the United States’ brilliantly in-form striker found it with the well-targeted, calm and technical finish. (The U.S. striker also had a sweet finish in the 59th minute, but he was two steps offside on Dempsey’s through ball.) Altidore was not as proficient as a week ago with the little flicks and the other technical work 20-30 yards form goal, but he still managed some effective target play. Oh! And the game-winning goal, of course.
Brad Davis, 73rd minute for Zusi (6) – A swell run in the 82nd minute earned a great scoring chance on a free kick. Tracked back like a pro to help kill the game.
Geoff Cameron, 73rd minute for Jones (7) – By his third minute, had already delivered more telling balls forward than Jones. The guy really covers ample ground with those long strides. Another solid shift as a holding mid.
Edgar Castillo, 87th for Eddie Johnson (NR) – Brought on late for additional defensive help.