By Ridge Mahoney
A patient and confident U.S. performance was rewarded whenJozy Altidorescored in his fourth consecutive game to earn a 1-0 Hexagonal victory over Honduras Tuesday in Sandy, Utah.
Altidore was one of several Americans to receive high marks. Another solid defensive effort earned the U.S. its fourth Hexagonal shutout, and the return of Graham Zusifrom suspension helped produce a decent amount of scoring chances and 13 shots, five of which were on target.
Fabian Johnson assisted on the winning goal for the second straight game with a low cross from the left wing that Altidore steered into the net. They had also combined on the first goal in last week’s 2-0 defeat of Panama.
6 TIM HOWARD (Everton/ENG) 90/0.Seldom needed due to another solid defensive display, Howard stood his ground late in the first half to parry Andy Najar’s blast from close range. His command of the penalty area and communication with his defenders are improving with every game and there weren’t any glitches in the few tricky situations that Honduras was able to generate.
6 BRAD EVANS (Seattle Sounders) 12/1.Najar and his Seattle teammate Mario Martinez seemed capable of besting Evans yet seldom were able to use that leverage to create a clear scoring opportunity, and as the game evolved Evans tucked in a little tighter and closed up the spaces. He worked a few good combinations up the right flank and could have scored with a header but headed it straight to the keeper.
6 OMAR GONZALEZ (LA Galaxy) 7/0.Turnover provided Honduras with a free kick in a dangerous spot when Jermaine Jones had to cover for him and thus committed a foul. Made a smart decision to cover the middle and let Howard handle Najar’s shot rather than risk a square ball for a tap-in. Najar evaded a poor challenge from Gonzalez but let the ball roll out for a goal kick.
7 MATT BESLER (Sporting Kansas City) 11/0.Uncharacteristically bad ball allowed Najar his opportunity to rip a shot at Howard, but otherwise Besler delivered another solid performance. His reads and reactions were usually spot on and the U.S. midfield pressure allowed him to play without fear of being beaten over the top. As Honduras tried to rally in the final minutes, he neatly dispossessed Marvin Chavez, then swept away a low cross from Najar.
7 FABIAN JOHNSON (Hoffenheim/GER) 15/0.He got caught a few times playing left mid instead of left back, but for the most part he looked secure. Strong enough to win tackles and fast enough to chase down most opponents, he’s becoming a lock to start somewhere. And he’s turning into Lethal Weapon going forward. A great low cross arrowed straight to Eddie Johnson for a shot that forced a good save, and to set up the winner he raced into the channel to first-time Clint Dempsey’s pass right to Jozy Altidore.
5 JERMAINE JONES (Schalke 04/GER) 32/2.Typical of his game was a ball he lost with a careless touch, then won back with a strongman tackle. Some of his passes were incisive, others were aimless. At times he dropped deep to screen the back line, though he also got caught in no-man’s land when he lost track of a runner he should have picked up. He scraped the rebound of a saved shot in the direction of Michael Bradley, who fired it over the crossbar.
7 MICHAEL BRADLEY (Roma/ITA) 79/11.Bradley tried to infuse the game with some fluidity while jamming up the potent Honduran central midfield. He adjusted well to the choppy nature of play by settling the ball when necessary, or playing a first-time ball to accelerate the tempo. His excellent left-footed chip dropped into a good spot, but Clint Dempsey headed it wide. Bradley blasted his one shooting opportunity over the crossbar.
7 GRAHAM ZUSI (Sporting Kansas City) 14/1. He started the match a bit off the pace, perhaps a byproduct of missing the last game while suspended, though his set pieces were consistently good. He found his feet late in the first half and set off on a scything run that required a superb tackle by Jose Velasquez to halt. Only some desperate Honduran defending and Dempsey’s slack finishing deprived him of the assist his service deserved, though his role in the buildup to the U.S. goal was a valuable element.
5 EDDIE JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders) 53/14. He and Zusi swapped sides throughout the match and though active, he lacked sharpness at the critical moments and on a couple of occasions just failed to reach slightly overhit balls into the channels. He forced a good save from Noel Valladares with a first-time finish of a cross from the other Johnson. He didn’t get into many tackles but did keep up his level of effort.
6 CLINT DEMPSEY (Tottenham/ENG) 99/35.He squandered a few great scoring chances on headers that either went wide or right at the keeper. As a provider, however, he delivered. His through ball into the left channel ran for Fabian Johnson to set up the U.S. goal, and he himself nearly sent Altidore into the clear on two occasions only to be denied by an unlucky bounce and heroic defensive effort by Honduras. He wasted a free kick in a good spot by shooting into the wall and was unlucky when his header during a goalmouth scramble hit an opponent’s arm.
7 JOZY ALTIDORE (AZ/NED) 60/17.He kept to his task resolutely despite a few bad hops and narrow misses that deprived him and his teammates of clear shots. A promising one-two with Eddie Johnson fizzled out when he inexplicably lost his balance, but he soldiered on. His link-up and hold-up play were again key elements in the U.S. attacking flow, and his exquisite finish of Fabian Johnson’s cross personified the poise and confidence stemming from his scoring streak.
5 GEOFF CAMERON (Stoke City/ENG) 18/0.Stumbled on his first confrontation, then eased into his composed, efficient self.
5 BRAD DAVIS (Houston Dynamo) 11/0. Drew a foul from Velasquez with a brazen dribble and hit a good corner kick to the near post.
NR EDGAR CASTILLO (Tijuana/MEX) 8/0.Replaced Eddie Johnson for the final few minutes.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=medium; 10=high.)