The United States’ loss to Costa Rica was a wake-up call, one that has raised yellow flags all around the U.S. soccer community, but not one that has doomed their 2018 World Cup hopes. Yet.
No, that loss has not deterred the hopes of the United States, but with Bruce Arena and the United States level on points with Honudras and just three games to go, this game in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday evening is now a must-win.
According to ESPN stat expert Paul Carr, the qualification chances for the United States still currently sit at 80%, but a loss to Honduras would plummet those chances to under 50/50, near 43%. Plain and simple, the US must win. Should they fail, not only would they be at best even with Honduras still, but Panama – currently just a point back – would likely be ahead, with a home date against Trinidad & Tobago on the docket.
They must get a result, and they must do it without their third all-time leading scorer Jozy Altidore, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation after his caution in the Costa Rica loss. Altidore left U.S. camp, returning to Toronto FC and leaving Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Chris Wondolowski the remaining strikers for Arena to pick from.
Arena must also address the numerous problems from the failure at Red Bull Arena, which include both tactical repairs and underperforming players. The most glaring issue was the spacing between center backs Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron, the latter of whom had a disastrous game, wandering aimlessly and giving the ball away profusely. Also an issue was the midfield, which was porous manned only by Michael Bradley and the offensively-minded Darlington Nagbe. Fabian Johnson was nearly invisible on the wing, moved up from his usual national team spot along the back line. Finally, Christian Pulisic was ineffective out wide, hacked repeatedly as many CONCACAF opponents have decided to do.
Meanwhile, Honduras is where they are thanks to a road victory over T&T last time out, with a quick 2-goal start and a solid finish. Midfielder Alexander Lopez was fantastic in central midfield, passing with a 95% accuracy including a trio of key passes and scoring a goal. They attacked with success down the right flank through Alfredo Mejia and Alberth Elis, the latter of whom also scored. Jorge Villafana will need to have a better game, after being substituted off after an hour with the U.S. struggling.
The heat and humidity in Honduras is also a factor in determining Arena’s lineup. On Monday, highs in San Pedro Sula reached 91 degrees with 82% humidity. The forecast for Tuesday is more of the same. Arena told reporters on Monday that domestic players could play a larger role since their fitness is at a heightened level being further into their season.
All these issues need to be navigated or corrected – and quickly – or else Arena’s job as stopgap manager will have fallen flat on its face.