U.S. Pounds Honduras, 6-0, Jumps Back into Hexagonal
March 24, 2017
SAN JOSE, Calif.—Playing with a sense of urgency—and perhaps a touch of desperation—the U.S. men's national team crushed Honduras Friday night at Avaya Stadium, registering first-half goals from Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey en route to a 6-0 win.
Give head coach Bruce Arena credit: He made some bold personnel decisions, and they paid off.
With several of his best players—including Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Jermaine Jones, and Timothy Chandler—unavailable, the second-time U.S. national team boss didn't hold back in terms of his Starting XI.
Yes, Pulisic got the start—but Arena doubled down on his young star and placed him in the pivotal No. 10 role, smack dab in the middle of the action. Lletget also made the starting lineup, as did left back Jorge Villafana. It was just the third U.S. appearance for both players.
The coach surrounded these relative newcomers with veterans: Tim Howard started in goal; Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks shared central defense responsibilities; Dempsey and Jozy Altidore partnered up top; and Bradley settled into the No. 6 role wearing the captain's armband.
Just five minutes into the match, the newbies combined on a goal that just might have altered the trajectory of the team's World Cup hopes. Altidore initiated the play when he trapped a deflected ball and passed to Pulisic on the left flank. The Borussia Dortmund teenager promptly whipped a left-footed shot on goal and Honduras keeper Donis Escober did well to parry the shot. But Lletget pounced on the rebound, slamming the ball into the back of the net and putting the U.S. ahead 1-0.
A few minutes later Lletget was part of an another promising sequence, as he raced down the right sideline with plenty of open space in front of him. Honduran defender Ever Alvarado went in hard on the Los Angeles Galaxy attacker, earning a yellow card, and sending the goalscorer to the sidelines a few minutes later with an ankle injury.
Alejandro Bedoya replaced Lletget and the game continued much as it had before. Honduras saw a lot of the ball, but the Americans absorbed the pressure and eventually regained possession before the visitors could threaten Howard's goal.
And the U.S. was stellar in the attack all night long.
In the 27th minute, the Yanks doubled their lead. It all seemed very innocuous as Bradley dribbled along the top of the penalty area, but the Honduran gave the U.S. captain a bit too much space and he lifted a somewhat tame left-footed shot that seemed to surprise everybody—Escober most of all—as it bounced inside the far post. United States 2, Honduras 0.
Five minutes after that, Pulisic and Dempsey combined beautifully and put the game away.
Pulisic was plucky on the play, lifting a pass to Dempsey that looked like a softball pitch. The Seattle Sounder shouldered the ball to the ground at the top of the penalty area, held off a Honduran defender who was draped all over him, and blasted a shot into the top corner of the goal as he slid to the ground.
It was the sort of goal that made Dempsey a hero at Fulham, and it validated Arena's decision to start the 34-year-old who is still recovering from an irregular heartbeat.
Honduran might have phoned it in from that point on, but did not. In fact, the visitors redoubled their efforts, targeting Cameron's side of the field and nearly scoring twice in the dying minutes of the first half. The Stoke City midfielder seemed off-balance in his right fullback role, but the U.S. defense held on to its three-goal lead as the first half ended.
Less than two minutes into the second interval, the Yanks scored again. Altidore—an underrated passer—unlocked Pulisic again, only this time the 18-year-old succeeded in his attempt on goal, slipping the ball just inside the near post.
The rout was on.
Before many fans had returned to their seats from halftime, the Yanks scored again. Pulisic feathered another gorgeous pass to Dempsey, who danced around the a charging—and thoroughly besieged Escober—to make the score 5-0.
While the game was officially a laugher, the scoreline was no laughing matter. Goal differential counts in World Cup qualifying, and given the United States' 4-0 loss to Costa Rica in November, the Yanks kept their foot on the gas and looked for more goals.
In the 54th minute, Dempsey made it 6-0—and earned a hat trick in the process—on a 30-yard free kick that soared over Escober and then dipped under the crossbar.
The only downside for the Americans involved injuries. Lletget was a sparkplug early in the contest and it remains to be seen if he will recover in time for the Panama match on Tuesday. John Brooks also took a knock and had to be carried off the field in the 70th minute.
If the U.S. can overcome these injuries and put on a similarly inspired display in four days time, Bruce Arena will be well on his way toward achieving his one goal: getting the U.S. to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.