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Four years on, victory is bittersweet
by Paul Kennedy, February 5th, 2013 10:27PM

TAGS:  men's national team, world cup


[HONDURAS-USA] The setting for the USA's Hexagonal opener Wednesday has been framed in such harsh terms that few would imagine Jurgen Klinsmann's boys escaping with a victory. Yes, it will be hot. Yes, Estadio Olimpico will be packed. And yes, San Pedro Sula is the murder capital of the world (for whatever impact that has on the game). But four years ago, the USA traveled to San Pedro Sula for a qualifier against Honduras and came away with not only a win but a berth in the 2010 World Cup. That game marked a high water mark for the national team program that would within days be hit had by misfortune from which it is has yet to recover.

Honduras went into the game with an 8-0-0 record at home in qualifying and was on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup. A victory would have clinched qualification for Honduras and set off massive celebrations in a national rocked by a military coup.

But after falling behind in the 47th minute, Bob Bradley's boys silenced the Estadio Olimpico crowd with three goals in a quarter of an hour and went on to win, 3-1. On that Saturday night in October, it was the USA, not Honduras, celebrating a trip to the World Cup.

It was about as good as it's ever gotten for the USA on the road in Concacaf, another swashbuckling performance by a team that only four months earlier had beaten Egypt, 3-0, and Spain, 2-0, at the Confederations Cup and lost to Brazil in the final, 3-2, after leading by two goals at the half.

But three days after the win in San Pedro Sula, Charlie Davies was seriously injured in a car crash outside Washington that took the life of another passenger. Davies, whose play at the Confederations Cup and against Honduras was so instrumental in the U.S. success, never played for the USA again. At 23, his national team career was over.

A day after that, the USA played Costa Rica in a game that no longer mattered for the Americans but was everything for the Ticos. With seven minutes to play and the USA trailing 2-1, Oguchi Onyewu went down awkwardly with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. Onyewu, who had parlayed his play the Confederations Cup into a contract at AC Milan, would later return to action but never played for Milan and never played again at the same level for the USA, which has missed him terribly in the back ever since.

Another starter in San Pedro Sula in October 2009 was Stuart Holden, who was only 24 and just breaking into the national team. Five months after the Honduras game, Dutchman Nigel de Jong broke Holden's leg. The Scottish-born Texan returned for the World Cup but was not a factor. Klinsmann has never had a chance to use Holden as he is still in the process of battling back from knee troubles stemming from a challenge he had with Manchester United's Jonny Evans in 2011.

Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector were the two young outside backs against Honduras. Bornstein would become a national hero in Honduras when his tying goal late in stoppage time dropped Costa Rica to fourth place, behind the Catrachos in the final Hexagonal standings. Roberto Micheletti, the newly installed (by military coup) president of Honduras, said the "gringuito" would never again need a visa to enter Honduras. If Bornstein returns to Honduras, it won't likely ever be with the national team. He languishes on the bench at Tigres in Mexico. Spector, who began his career at Manchester United, now plays in the second-level of English soccer at Birmingham City.

The San Pedro Sula game marked the pinnacle of the international career of Conor Casey, who scored the first two goals. Besides Davies, he was the only starter from the 2009 Honduras game not to go to the World Cup. Ricardo Clark went and became a goat for U.S. fans after costing the USA a cheap goal in the round-of-16 game against Ghana. His excellent play throughout 2009 -- at the Confederations Cup and in World Cup qualifying -- was quickly forgotten. Clark, too, has since struggled, though he began to resurrect his career last fall when he returned to the Houston Dynamo.

Finally, there's Landon Donovan, who set up Casey for the second goal -- for one of his record 10 assists in 2009 -- and scored the third himself on a perfectly placed free kick. Only 30, Donovan is still contemplating his future. In the meantime, only three starters from the October 2009 game remain with the team: Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Bradley.

Reliving San Pedro Sula 2009:

1 comment
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: February 6, 2013 at 1:53 p.m.
    What a lot of crocodile tears. Life moves on, only change of note is that four years ago we had two real players on the ball in midfield, Donovan and Holden, and now we have close to none. Maybe there is something to the criticism that our youth programs produce only big strong fast early-maturing players, when what we need are little guys with magic feet.

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