Yanks Eke Out a 1-1 Draw in Tense World Cup Qualifier
September 05, 2017
HONDURAS AND THE UNITED STATES were even on points—eight—ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula. Ninety minutes later both teams had nine points and remained in a virtual tie for third place in the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.
It was a smash-and-grab result for the Yanks, who were outplayed for long stretches of the match. Romell Quioto's 27th minute strike took full advantage of a suspect U.S. backline and his perfectly placed shot looked like it would hold up for the home team. U.S. sub Bobby Wood had other ideas, however, and he leveled the score in the 85th minute by getting on the end of a ball that had ricocheted off a number of American players.
Given that the Americans trailed for nearly 60 minutes, the draw will feel like a win for Bruce Arena's side—but it was a worrisome performance for a team that has struggled throughout World Cup qualifying.
At the opening kickoff the ball came straight to the U.S. captain, Michael Bradley. The Toronto FC veteran took his time, squared up the ball, targeted Christian Pulisic on the right wing, and promptly deposited the ball into touch.
It was a portent of things to come for am American team that never got into gear underneath a sweltering Central American sun.
There were a few bright moments, certainly—especially in the opening minutes. Just three minutes in the Yanks looked more coordinated than they had against Costa Rica. Given plenty of space to maneuver, Christian Pulisic lifted a cross to Clint Dempsey, who headed the ball down to Jordan Morris on the right channel. Morris took a shot that bounced wide of Luis Lopez' goal—a miss, but precisely the sort of half-chance that was hard to come by four days prior.
Dempsey made his presence felt early, drawing two Honduras yellow cards in the first quarter of the match. All told, it seemed like a promising start for the U.S.—especially compared with Friday's woeful 2-0 loss to Costa Rica.
But vulnerabilities in the back undermined the United States' improved play up top.
Honduras opened the scoring in the 27th minute when Alexander Lopez split Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez to find Romell Quioto down the left flank. Gonzalez failed to clear the ball early, when he had a chance, and his last-ditch attempt to knock it away bounced off Quioto's leg and fell perfectly for the Honduran attacker, who slotted a lovely shot to the far corner past a helpless Brad Guzan.
The crowd erupted as the home side took a 1-0 lead.
It's worth noting that the goal did not come against the run of play. Los Catratchos had been pushing down both flanks with some success, targeting the Yanks' two offense-first fullbacks—Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley—deployed by Arena. Beasley looked overmatched on the right and Zusi displayed neither the place nor the grit to secure his side of the pitch.
Four minutes later, in fact, Zusi gave Anthony Lozano too much space out wide, allowing the dynamic midfielder to place a cross right at the feet of Quioto in the middle of the box. Beasley came to the rescue of his countryman, however, lowering his head to clear the ball away at the last instant (and suffering a knock in the process).
The Yanks did not respond well to falling behind, as Honduras proceeded to control play for the next 15 minutes. Whether tired or dispirited, the U.S. conceded possession easily and seemed content to blast the ball out its own half of the field.
Only one American, Pulisic, managed to put his stamp on the game in the opening 45 minutes. The Borussia Dortmund attacker was relentless, darting past Honduran defenders and looking to set up his teammates for an equalizer. Jordan Morris, Dempsey, and Darlington Nagbe all seemed a half-step slow, however, and the U.S. could not convert.
It was Honduras, in fact, that came closest to scoring the second goal of the contest. Positoned 25 yards from goal, Maynor Figueroa let fly with a blistering free kick in the 44th minute that slipped past the U.S. wall but Guzan pushed it away.
Tied at the break, things looked bleak for the Yanks. Beyond the awful optics, back-to-back Hexagonal losses would force the team to scramble from the bottom half of the standings to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Arena didn't make any changes at intermission, and the U.S. starting XI came out of the break full of energy. But Honduras absorbed the pressure well and held the Yanks at bay in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
Perhaps sensing the game was slipping away, Arena took Beasley and Zusi out of the game just after the one-hour mark, replacing them with Paul Arriola and Geoff Cameron. When that failed to generate any additional offense, Nagbe came off in favor of Bobby Wood.
Were there three defenders in the game? Two? It didn't really matter. Desperate times call for desperate tactics.
In the 74th minute, Cameron, Dempsey, and Wood nearly tied things up. The play started when Cameron launched a long-range throw-in. Dempsey pounced on the ball and blasted a dangerous cross to Wood, who was lurking near the far post. Honduras cleared it away, but the sequence provided a glimmer of hope for an anemic U.S. offense.
With so many Americans pressing forward, however, Honduras looked poised to score on the counterattack—and it nearly did. Making amends for his earlier gaffe, Gonzalez kept the game alive around the 80th minute with a sliding tackle on Lozano that likely would have produced a free chance on goal.
Were Honduran players feigning injury and milking the clock? You better believe it. Did the U.S. seem helpless and frustrated? Yes.
And then, out of nowhere, salvation. A questionable foul call gave the Americans a free kick 30 yards from goal. Kellyn Acosta stepped up to take it and his shot nearly found the upper corner. Honduras' Lopez parried the ball away with his left arm and Matt Besler got to the ball first. He lofted the ball back into the scrum, and Morris headed the ball forward.
That's when Wood, standing directly in front of goal, chested the ball down, and slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Score tied, 1-1. Teams still notched in third place, with the Yanks still ahead on goal differential.
As the U.S. approached these two qualifiers there was plenty of talk about securing four or six points. Instead, the team managed just one.
There's still much work to be done before the U.S. can start thinking about World Cup draws or flights to Russia, but for the moment the team remains alive.
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