FRISCO, Texas — Despite the positive result on the night — a 2-1 victory for the U.S. national team to open their 2015 Gold Cup campaign — the overwhelming post-game sentiment from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and any number of key players was that the performance against Honduras left something to be desired and must improve by leaps and bounds if the Americans are to defend their 2013 CONCACAF title.
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While the middle third of Tuesday night’s victory over Honduras was full of bright spots — Clint Dempsey bagged a brace in his home state, Brad Guzan held things together during tenuous early moments and DeAndre Yedlin looked a terror down the right wing for 90 minutes — it was the first 20 minutes that saw the USMNT nearly go down a goal — or two — early on, and the last 20 minutes that saw their two-goal lead halved in the 69th minute and almost wiped out entirely.
Honduras began the game just as Klinsmann and Co. thought they would — quickly, aggressively and with near-reckless abandon. As it turned out, the Yanks weathered the early onslaught which saw nine shots unleashed toward Brad Guzan’s goal in the opening half of play, and capitalized once Los Catrachos‘ grew winded and their legs heavy in the humid, high-80s temperatures at Toyota Stadium.
“They took over the first 15 or 20 minutes,” Klinsmann said during his post-game press conference. “You have to give them a big compliment. They created chances and we had to kind of come back into the game, especially our backline. Both center backs needed to settle. We said at halftime, ‘Be calm, just be calm, keep it simple, nothing complicated, find a rhythm.’ I thought the second half was much, much better.”
Guzan attributed those early struggles a combination of time constraints (one short week of training with the entire squad) and having to piece together a number of different players arriving into camp from a number of different leagues around the world, many of whom find themselves in very different points of their respective club seasons.
Of the five defenders who saw the field Tuesday night — John Brooks, Ventura Alvarado, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler and Brad Evans — they come from five different club teams and three different domestic leagues — Bundesliga, Liga MX and Major League Soccer.
“When you have guys coming from different leagues from different parts of the world, there’s different styles of soccer being played,” said Guzan during the post-game mixed zone. “You have to try to get on the same page as quickly as you can, and it’s not always easy. There’s going to be mistakes, there’s going to be bumps along the way, especially in a tournament like this, when it’s not always just about the soccer.
“It’s about the fight, the determination and grinding out results. … It’s an ongoing process, and it will be until the next World Cup. It’s not something that you snap your fingers and it just changes overnight.”
As for the result itself, every last player who made their way through the mixed zone and spoke to reporters was bullish and unwilling to concede on one facet: three points is three points in CONCACAF, no matter how you arrive at the final destination.
“That’s a very, very good team,” said Evans, who replaced Chandler at right back in the 63rd minute of Tuesday night’s win. “Anybody that comes through here will tell you that’s a good team. New coach, new system, and the last five or six results have been extremely good. We watched all the tape on them, and we knew what we were getting into. We knew it was going to be a battle. The first game of the tournament is always like that.”
With that first game of the tournament out of the way and three points to boot, the USMNT’s attention now turns to Friday night’s opponent, Haiti, who picked up a surprising 1-1 draw against Panama in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
Steady improvement will be expected from Klinsmann’s young bunch (Tuesday’s starters are an average of 24 years old). On the other hand, a pair of 22-year-old center backs navigated the CONCACAF storm of all CONCACAF storms against Honduras, and they have three points to prove it.