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Match Report

Lethargic U.S. Loses Hex Opener to Honduras, 2-1

Sluggish defending and Geoff Cameron's major gaffe in a crucial moment cost the United States big in the opening game of the Hexagonal. Honduras deserved its 2-1 victory.
BY Noah Davis Posted
February 06, 2013
6:21 PM
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras—The United States men's national team opened the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on a down note, losing 2-1 to an energetic, talented Honduran squad.

"I think we had too many mistakes in too many areas," U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said at a press conference after the match. "Tactically in certain ways. Individual mistakes. Collective mistakes. We gave too many opportunities to this Honduras team and they took advantage of it."

The decisive goal came in the 78th minute on a defensive gaffe by the American center back duo of Geoff Cameron and 24-year-old Omar Gonzalez. With the game tied 1-1 and Honduras in possession, a Honduran through pass rolled—harmlessly, it seemed—toward the right side of American goal. Honduras midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia pounced before Cameron and a late-arriving Tim Howard could clear it and centered a pass to Jerry Bengston, who beat a napping Gonzalez, tapping a shot into an open goal to give the Catrachos a huge victory to open the Hexagonal.

"I think in the second half, as maybe we get a little bit tired, we get pulled around and they are able to find little gaps, little spaces between us," Michael Bradley said.

The entire game—played in sweltering heat and humidity—got off to a slow start. Honduras had more possession in the first 10 minutes of the match, but neither side threatened.

The Americans' first chance came in the 13th minute when right back Timothy Chandler found himself in space down the right flank. His cross was too low, however, and the U.S. attack withered.

On the defensive side of the pitch, the U.S. defense seemed overly casual on the ball, and Johnson and Cameron were both dispossessed easily in dangerous positions. They were slow to close down too. In the 23rd minute Roger Espinoza was wide open with the ball at the top of the penalty area, but his wicked 20-yard shot flew straight to U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard.

"Too many players didn't reach their overall potential," Klinsmann said, summing up the affair.

As the half wore on, the Americans were content to counterattack, and the approach seemed to pay off with longer stretches of possession. In the 29th minute, Michael Bradley released Eddie Johnson down the left wing, and Johnson's perfectly flighted cross found a charging Jozy Altidore who shot the ball just over the crossbar.

Honduras nearly scored a few minutes later when Espinoza attacked down the left side of the box and delivered a beautiful cross right in front of net. It would have been a tap-in for Honduras but Fabian Johnson was in the right space at the right time and cleared it away.

The United States broke through in the 36th minute on a brilliant exchange between Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey. Alone with the ball just outside the penalty area, Jones spotted Dempsey's run down the right side and lofted a gentle ball over the Honduras defense. Dempsey got onto the pass and volleyed it brilliantly into the back of the net.

The lead did not last long. Just four minutes later Juan Garcia scored the goal of a lifetime—a perfect overhead bicycle kick off a deflected cross that gave Howard no chance.

The first half was no masterpiece for either team, but both goals were beautiful.

The Americans established more possession after the break, and it nearly paid off in the 51st minute when Fabian Johnson, who seemed sluggish in the first half, pushed down the right side and escaped his marker. Johnson crossed to Bradley, who was charging forward, but Bradley’s shot from just outside the box was deflected wide.

Perhaps sensing that his players were exhausted, Klinsmann gambled by subbing off two players before the one-hour mark. The coach took Danny Williams and Eddie Johnson off, replacing them with the fresh legs of Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan.

It nearly paid off.

An American attack down the left flank in the 65th minute found Dempsey with an open lane near the top of the box, but his right-footed shot was deflected by Garcia.

In the 67th minute, Klinsmann went all in on his fresh legs tactic: He brought Jermaine Jones off in favor of Graham Zusi, meaning the U.S. had used all of its substitutions before Honduras used any of theirs.

But it didn't help.

"When we started to gain a little bit more possession in the second half, they started to sit back. They got deeper and deeper. They started counterattacking us," Geoff Cameron said. "We had a bad ball. They are a good team. They have fast players." The American defense, inconsistent and tentative throughout much of the match, was a step too slow—and seemed to lack that extra bit of desire—which opened the door for Bengston's decisive goal.

Tim Howard put a decisive cap on the loss: "They were a much better team than us today. We looked flat."

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