[USA-HONDURAS] The site and the names have changed but once again the U.S. and Honduras will play an important soccer match in a stadium rife with history.
For their second match in the Gold Cup, the countries will field relatively inexperienced teams Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision) at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. compared to the ones that met a month ago during the Hexagonal.
When they played June 6 in Chicago, Honduras scored in the fifth minute after Clint Dempsey stumbled over the ball in midfield, and though the Americans fought back to win, 2-1, they needed a Landon Donovan penalty kick and Carlos Bocanegra header from a set play to notch that victory.
"I'm expecting them to come out for the first 10-15 minutes with a flying start, really putting pressure on us," says U.S. forward Charlie Davies, who watched that match from the bench but has since gained a starting spot. "But I think we'll settle into the game well, and we just have to play our game and we'll be successful."
In its Gold Cup opener, Honduras scraped past Haiti, 1-0, with a goal by Carlos Costly, the scorer for his country at Soldier Field. Osman Chavez, Walter Martinez and Costly started for Honduras that day, and Georgie Welcomecame off the bench. They are the only players on the Gold Cup roster who played at Soldier Field.
"We deserved more than we got, but now we have the challenge again to face them," Welcome said. "We know all the Honduras fans are with us. We've been training hard these couple of days for this match coming up."
U.S. coach Bob Bradley has added midfielder Benny Feilhaber to the Gold Cup roster, adding his name to that of Davies and a few others carried over from the Confederations Cup. Against Honduras in Chicago, Feilhaber replaced Pablo Mastroeni at halftime. His insertion added some spark to the midfield, though Mastroeni had hardly erred in his holding role.
"It gives us a little bit of cover in the midfield," said Bradley. "I think after the Confederations Cup he needed a little bit of time. And like all of these guys, we need to balance our needs with the needs of his club and the ability of the player to get back to his club at a good time so that he can earn playing time and continue to move forward."
The Americans moved forward at will while thrashing Grenada, 4-0, in their Gold Cup opener, with Kyle Beckerman and Logan Pause blotting thrusts through the middle and playing wide balls that enabled them to dominate the flanks. Though Honduras is far from full strength, it can be stubborn to break down in midfield.
"This is going to be a much better test," said Bradley. "We expect that this is the game for putting ourselves in position to win the group."
Feilhaber is a likely candidate to replace either Beckerman or Pause for this Honduras match, though Bradley has also used him at right mid. Bradley might also try to find a spot for Santino Quaranta, who has played in several midfield roles for D.C. United this season and would certainly enjoy making his return to the national team in front of his hometown fans.
"I think he has matured as a player and a person," said Bradley of Quaranta, whose candidacy to make the 2006 team was derailed by injury and lack of fitness. "You can tell that he's very excited to have this opportunity at this time. We all feel like he's shown well for D.C. during the second half of last season and early this year, and it's very good to have him with our national team."
The only holdover on either team from the infamous World Cup qualifier played at RFK eight years ago and won by Honduras, 3-2, is U.S. right backSteve Cherundolo. More than 54,000 fans, many of them Honduran, turned RFK into a blue-and-white party zone that day; the crowd and stakes will be smaller this time, and the Honduran players are thousands of miles away from a nation riven by political crisis.
"The situation is only one motivation for us," Coach Reinaldo Reina told concacaf.com. "We always wanted to do well in the tournament. The other situation is that everyone is thinking about their family, their parents, their sisters, their brothers, so there's some worry there."