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USA must reshuffle for Honduras
by Ridge Mahoney, June 5th, 2009 7AM
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[HEXAGONAL] About a decade ago, U.S. keeper Kasey Keller succinctly stated the plight of American soccer players when he said, "We hate playing away games, at home." Just such a scenario is likely Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago, where tens of thousands of Honduran fans - bolstered by their team's 3-1 thumping of Mexico in its last qualifier - are expected to fill much, if not most, of the renovated stadium that can seat 60,000 fans if full. (TV: 8 pm ET, ESPN & Galavision).

As of Thursday, more than 50,000 tickets had been sold, and officials of U.S. Soccer - whose headquarters are close by, ironically enough - can only hope the U.S. team that was demolished in Costa Rica Wednesday left that game, and accompanying mindset, behind.

The USA (2-1-1, 7 points) surrendered first place in the Concacaf Hexagonal (final qualifying round) by losing, 3-1, to Costa Rica (3-1-0, 9 points), and would fall into a second-place tie with Honduras (1-1-1, 4 points) if it duplicated the outcome of a qualifier in Washington, D.C., eight years ago: USA 2, Honduras 3.

Since then, the USA has won four straight from Honduras, either in friendlies or Gold Cup ( a 2-1 win at the Meadowlands four years ago).

Honduras has been training in Florida for more than a week, and arrived in Chicago Thursday. In its last qualifier it thumped Mexico, 3-1, in San Pedro Sula April 1, a few days after nearly winning in Port of Spain. It took a 1-0 lead in the 51st minute on a goal by Carlos Pavon, who was playing for the first time in 2010 qualifying. Pavon scored once and Carlos Costly netted twice against Mexico to revive the Honduran quest, which stalled when the team went winless in its first two Hexagonal matches.

Forward Brian Ching, scratched from the Costa Rica game with a strained hamstring, is out of the Honduras game as well. Replacement Conor Casey of Colorado is scheduled to arrive Friday in time to train in the scheduled late-afternoon session. As of Thursday night, the team's medical staff had no definitive word on whether right back Frankie Hejduk might recover from his groin injury in time to make the 18-man game roster.

With midfielder Michael Bradley suspended, Coach Bob Bradley has fewer central options, though Pablo Mastroeni can only improve on his display at Saprissa Stadium. Ricardo Clark's quickness and range may be effective, though his tendency to foul is a concern. The coach can also use Landon Donovan in a central role, and pick two forwards from among Casey, Jozy Altidore, and Charlie Davies.

Neither Donovan nor Clint Dempsey were effective playing wide against Costa Rica but there aren't many alternatives, unless Freddy Adu jumps up the depth chart.

What to do at outside back will be an issue even if Hejduk can man the right side. DaMarcus Beasley is better suited to midfield and though risky, Jonathan Bornstein is experienced at left back. The exclusion of Jonathan Spector, who can play anywhere along the back line but is more comfortable in the middle, from the Costa Rica game may have been a precaution in case he's needed for this match, to be played not far from his hometown of Arlington Heights.

Whatever the choices of personnel or tactics, intensity and determination will matter more in what may be a 'home" game in the most American sense. Yet as the U.S. Hexagonal campaign reaches its midway point of five matches, three points, regardless of setting, are job one.


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