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USA needs right balance vs. formidable Honduras
by Ridge Mahoney, October 9th, 2009 6:45AM
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[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] Not for the first time, the U.S. players and Coach Bob Bradley have talked about starting a game aggressively during their preparation for a vital Hexagonal match against Honduras Saturday (10 p.m. ET, closed-circuit) in San Pedro Sula. Such is rarely the case for playing a potent, dangerous team on its soil in front of roaring, frenzied fans, and the Americans know that the fast, pressuring Honduran attackers feed on that enthusiasm.

Containing the brazen runs of Ramon Nunez and David Suazo and right back Mauricio Sabillon as well as the playmaking of Wilson Palacios is a daunting task, as Mexico and Costa Rica have discovered this year while losing by combined scores of 7-1 in Estadio Olimpico. MLS-based midfielder Amado Guevara will miss the game because of  yellow-card suspension and will likely be replaced by Hendry Thomas, who has been getting good reviews for his English Premier League performances for Wigan.

Guevara got the yellow card that led to his one-game suspensionin the 1-0 loss at Mexico, as did Danilo Turcios, for whom Melvin Valladares is set to step in.

Just how aggressive can the Americans be, seeing as nine of the players listed on the traveling squad are carrying yellow cards into this game, and would be suspended for the Costa Rica match next Wednesday if they pick up another one?

Bradley can only hope his players find the right balance of fierceness and finesse, yet every dose of experience and savvy will be needed to retain any chance of the victory that would clinch qualification for the 2010 World Cup regardless of what happens in the other relevant Hexagonal match, Costa Rica at home to Trinidad & Tobago.

A shoulder injury that rules out Clint Dempsey, who usually starts in a wide midfield role and often finishes a match up top, has opened up a spot, presumably for either Stuart Holden or Benny Feilhaber. Both are good attacking options, yet both are young (24), and have yet to start a full international in such hostile conditions.

At first, U.S. Soccer stated it wouldn't name a player to replace Dempsey, then a day later came word Crew right back and three-time World Cup veteran Frankie Hedjuk would join the team's training camp in Miami. He can certainly cover for right backs Jonathan Spector and Steve Cherundolo, the only member of the squad who played eight years ago at Estadio Olimpico in a 2-1 Hexagonal win, or Hejduk's energy, engine and experience could be deployed to help blunt the Hondurans in a midfield role.

Carlo Costly, who scored for Honduras in its 2-1 loss to the USA in June in Chicago, was suspended for the Catrachos' 4-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago and was a used as a second-half sub against Mexico. The return from a knee injury of Suazo, Honduras' best player, could keep Costly on the bench.

But if the left-footed Costly plays, he'll likely drift to his strong side, which will pit him against whatever U.S. players occupy their right flank. Nunez and left back Emilio Izaguirre will come to the left in an effort to get a numbers advantage, and if there's one flaw of positional play that has plagued the Americans this year it is insufficient cover when the opposition overloads one side of the field.

Holden has enough lung power and endurance to cover the flank and still get forward, yet Bradley will likely need his attacking impetus if Dempsey can't go against Costa Rica, and might best be utilized as a sub if this game is tied or by getting a tie the USA can clinch, which could occur only if Costa Rica ties or loses against T&T.

Hedjuk has played midfield, both in his club career and for the USA, and while appearing as a right back in the next two games is more likely, he certainly possesses the tools and abilities to contribute in midfield. His inclusion as a late sub in San Salvador produced a goal and an assist in the final minutes of an incredible comeback from 2-0 down to 2-2, and Honduras won't welcome the sight of him flying up the flank, no matter what his starting point.

As per other lineup possibilities, Bradley can pack midfield with five players to stifle Honduras and sacrifice a forward, using either Charlie Davies or Jozy Altidore, with Landon Donovan or Feilhaber slotting in behind. This could also utilize Donovan's incredible range and workrate on both sides of the ball, and maximize his influence in midfield.

Yet there's also value in using another experienced veteran, Brian Ching, to battle the occasionally careless Honduran central defenders and win free kicks. Honduras' defensive laxity is one good reason to play two forwards from the get-go and go for an early goal that could shake up the ninth day of Hexagonal play dramatically.

To contain Sabillon and whatever else Honduras launches up its right flank will take a supreme team effort, but also a Herculean effort from Jonathan Bornstein, if he gets the call. There aren't a whole lot of options.

Staff members will monitor events in the Costa Rica-T&T game, which kicks off simultaneously with the U.S. match. If, as expected, Costa Rica jumps into the lead, only a U.S. victory would have any meaning, since any other result would still require the Americans to at least get a tie next Wednesday at RFK.

 



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