American Soccer Now's resident tactician Liviu Bird takes a look at how the United States can get out of San Pedro Sula with a win—or at least a point.
February 05, 2013
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With the United States playing three of its first four matches away in the final round of World Cup qualifying, survival is the name of the game early. If history holds, however, the first match against Honduras could prove to be a confidence booster.
In 2010 Honduras lost its first match to Costa Rica before tying an underwhelming Trinidad and Tobago. Eight years earlier, Honduras tied Costa Rica to kick off the Hex before losing 2-1 to the U.S. at home. In 2006 qualifying, the Catrachos didn’t make the final round.
With a tendency to start slowly and lose to the U.S. at home, perhaps Honduras should be the tentative side heading into Wednesday’s matchup (4 p.m. Eastern, beIN Sport) against the Americans. Still, any sort of result will seem like a victory in the typically hostile Central American atmosphere that San Pedro Sula provides.
Honduras is playing some of the best soccer in its history, but if the U.S. hits three tactical points, a win—or at least a tie—is not out of the question.
1. Defense First
It should go without saying in this situation, but the U.S. must stay strong defensively to beat Honduras. Unfortunately, Honduras attacks in a manner the Americans have struggled with in recent times.
The Catrachos are both technically gifted and physically strong, and they attack quickly, not wasting any extra time on the ball. Look no further than Major League Soccer for three examples of the team’s ruthless ability in attack: Roger Espinoza, Andy Najar, and Oscar Boniek Garcia.
All three possess ability on the ball and speed to pick defenses apart, and that should make American fans nervous because the U.S. hasn’t exactly been impenetrable in the back recently. The fact that not all three are starting only shows the riches Honduras has in this area.
This is a match in which the outside backs should think twice before advancing, and the entire back line must stay compact.
It is also safe to say goalkeeper Tim Howard will have to come up big at least once in each half.
2. Win the Midfield
The starting Honduran midfield, left to right, is Mario Martinez, Luis Garrido, Espinoza and Boniek Garcia.
The matchups in that area will be vital to the result of the game, with Espinoza likely matching up with Michael Bradley and Garrido with Clint Dempsey.
This may be a match more suited to the 4-1-3-2 for which Jürgen Klinsmann has displayed a preference at times rather than his ideal 4-3-3. Matching up just three in the midfield against that Honduran set of four could be disastrous if they find some chemistry and start combining around the Americans.
Add in Seattle Sounders FC’s Mario Martinez, who has shown a propensity for tearing up defenders in wide one-on-one battles—not to mention a decent scoring touch—and it’s clear where the quality in the Honduras team lies.
Shutting down the midfield, or at least limiting it to poor service and just half-chances on goal, will be vital. Crowding it out with more bodies is one way of disrupting any sort of rhythm.
3. Be Opportunistic
If the U.S. learned anything from its road matches up to this point, it’s that set pieces will be crucial. The Americans were moments away from a 1-0 win in Guatemala before being undone by a Marco Pappa free kick, and two direct hits led to a 2-1 defeat in Jamaica.
While it will be important to—again—stay solid defensively in these situations, stealing a goal or two on the other end would obviously help. Only a couple of the Honduran defenders are above six feet tall, and none of the three goalkeepers on the roster are.
It may not be pretty, but whipping the ball into the box on corner kicks and free kicks should at least provide opportunities. The key here will be putting it into the zone between the defenders and goalkeeper, giving the American players a chance to get on the end of it.
Klinsmann might be tempted to go with the tallest possible lineup in this game to account for the chances the team will get on set pieces. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Carlos Bocanegra are two of the best U.S. players in the air, so it would not be surprising to see them both start.
Liviu Bird is a freelance journalist based in Seattle who contributes to the New York Times Goal Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @liviubird.