[USA-HONDURAS] Jozy Altidore has paved a smooth path to Brazil for the USA. The red-hot striker scored with a low, left-footed shot for a 1-0 win over Honduras on Tuesday that gives the USA 13 points after six Hexagonal games, leaving little doubt the USA will reach its seventh straight World Cup. Altidore's strike was set up by Fabian Johnson, who's looking like the U.S. team's most valuable German import.
SUDDENLY, THIS SUMMER. After an 18-month drought -- 11 games in which he got little service -- the 23-year-old Altidore has hit the net four times in the last four games, starting in the 4-3 friendly win over Germany. He followed up with strikes in qualifying wins over Jamaica (2-1) and Panama (2-0), and the goal against Honduras makes him the sixth player in U.S. national team history to score in four straight games.
Altidore came off a 2012-13 season in which he set a record for goals by an American abroad, with 31, for Dutch club AZ. One expects Altidore to be with a more prestigious club by summer’s end.
THE TOP GERMAN. As was the case against Panama, Fabian Johnson set up Altidore’s strike against Honduras. Johnson’s pass found Altidore nine yards out and he stroked the ball into the right corner of the goal.
Johnson, who played wide left in midfield against Panama, lined up at left back, replacing the suspended DaMarcus Beasley.
Of all the German products brought into this U.S. national team -- as many as five have played in a game during Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure -- Johnson always seemed the most promising.
In 2009, Johnson played on the right side of a midfield, alongside Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, that led Germany to a 4-0 win over England in the U-21 European Championship final. Afterward, Johnson moved from second division 1860 Munich to the Bundesliga defending champion VfL Wolfsburg on a $3.5 million transfer.
He struggled for playing time at Wolfsburg -- 16 games in two seasons -- and moved to Hoffenheim, where he did well but not well enough for a German national team future. So in 2011 he accepted Klinsmann’s offer to play for the USA, for which he’s eligible for thanks to his American father -- thereby giving the USA a speedy, versatile and technically sound player.
GOOD EVEN WHEN HE’S BAD. Balls bounced away from him, he shot a free kick into the wall, and he had two golden chances to score on headers -- somehow missing the ball on the first and nodding it to keeper Noel Valladares on the second. But Clint Dempsey, who came into the game with seven goals in the last eight games, hit the pass, which was tapped on by Graham Zusi, that released Johnson down the wing to set up the game-winning goal.
UNBEATABLE AT HOME. For however much U.S. players and coaches like to talk about “how difficult” it is to play in the Concacaf region, the USA hasn’t lost a World Cup qualifier at home since 2001, when they fell, 3-2, to Honduras. Tuesday’s win extended the USA’s home unbeaten streak to 25 games, 23 of which were victories and the two ties came after it had already clinched a spot in the next stage to which it was seeking to advance.
BRAZIL-BOUND. Never has a team with 13 points after six Hexagonal games not qualified for the World Cup. The USA is in first place of the six-team final round from which the top three finishers qualify and the fourth-place team faces New Zealand in a play-in. The Americans have a six-point lead over fourth-place Honduras with four games left, two of which are at home -- against third-place Mexico and last-place Jamaica. The USA could clinch when it meets Costa Rica in its next game Sept. 6.
The minimum points required in previous Hexagonals to qualifying automatically?
2010 -- 16
2006 -- 16
2002 -- 17
1998 -- 14
(Reminder: A win is worth three points and a tie worth one.)
Jozy’s goal …
June 18 in Sandy Utah
USA 1 Honduras 0. Goal: Altidore 73.
USA --Howard; Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, F. Johnson; Bradley, Jones (Cameron 74); Zusi (Davis 74), Dempsey, E. Johnson (Castillo 87); Altidore.
Honduras --Valladares; A.Peralta (O.Garcia 75), Velasquez, Montes, Izaguirre; Espinoza, Claros, Najar, Palacios; M. Martinez (Chavez 69), Costly (Rojas 32).
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/-
13 USA 4-1-1 7/3
11 Costa Rica 3-2-1 8/4
8 Mexico 1-5-0 3/2
7 Honduras 2-1-3 6/7
6 Panama 1-3-2 5/7
2 Jamaica 0-2-4 2/8