Hexagonal Previews: Eyes on the Capital

The USA hosts Honduras Saturday morning in Washington, D.C. in front of a soldout RFK Stadium crowd. Honduras is in a must-win situation -- because of its poor home record -- while the Americans try to cope with an injury plight and a sputtering offense. Costa Rica, tied for first with the Yanks on points but holding the edge on goals-scored, travel to Trinidad & Tobago, which is firmly mired in last place. Mexico, which already lost three Hexagonal games, can take a large step to reviving World Cup hopes with a win in Jamaica BY MIKE WOITALLA USA-HONDURAS: How will Arena attack? Sept. 1 in Washington, D.C. (RFK Stadium) TV: ESPN2 (live) 10 am ET. Telemundo (East Feed: live), 10 am ET/9 am CT. (West Feed: delay), 10 am PT/9 am MT. Referee: Mauricio Navarro (Canada) STANDINGS: USA, 2nd in the Hexagonal (4 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss, 7 goals for, 2 goals against, 13 points); Honduras, 3rd in the Hexagonal (2 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses, 13 goals for, 11 goals against, 8 points). BRUCE'S CHALLENGE: The USA has given up only two goals in its first six Hexagonal games. Next best in that department is Costa Rica, with seven. So goal prevention isn't a concern. Goalkeeper controversy? Who could really complain about Bruce Arena's decision, besides Kasey Keller or Brad Friedel? The backline of Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope (or Carlos Llamosa), Jeff Agoos and David Regis may face its toughest test of qualifying against the Catrachos, but at least that part of Arena's team is set. The attack is where the big questions are -- because the team has averages slightly more than one goal per game in the Hexagonal (7 goals in 6 games). Only Trinidad & Tobago (4 goals) and Jamaica (5) have been less potent. In midfield, Claudio Reyna's absence (injured) causes more concern than when he missed the first Honduras game. Arena still had Clint Mathis available for that road win. Like Mathis, John O'Brien is also injured. Joe-Max Moore's failure to handle Reyna's role against Mexico in July leaves the following possibilities (with Chris Armas as defensive midfielder and Tony Sanneh wide left): ò Earnie Stewart plays in Reyna's spot and Cobi Jones starts on the right. ò Or Stewart stays put and Preki, Brian Maisonneuve, Jovan Kirosvki or Landon Donovan move into Reyna's spot. But Donovan is likely to start on the frontline, where, after injuries to Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff, Ante Razov and Kirovski failed present a satisfying replacement duo. Razov's not even in camp; nor is injured Brian McBride. So who to partner with Donovan? Joe-Max Moore has only scored against Barbados. That makes Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart top candidates -- but both are needed in midfield. Thus Kirosvki has the best odds to see time up front with Donovan. The U.S. lineup is likely to look like: Friedel; Cherundolo, Pope, Agoos, Regis; Jones, Armas, Stewart, Sanneh; Donovan, Kirovski. Probable Honduras lineup: Valladares; Reyes, Carcamo, Caballero, Medina, Guerrero; Turcios, Pineda, Guevara; Pavon, Nunez. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO-COSTA RICA: Ticos must avoid letdown Sept. 1 in Port of Spain (Hasely Crawford National Stadium) TV: Univision (live) 4 pm ET. Referee: Mohammed Kousa (Syria) STANDINGS: Trinidad & Tobago, 6th in the Hexagonal (1 tie, 5 losses, 4 goals for, 13 goals against, 1 point); Costa Rica, 1st in the Hexagonal (4 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss, 12 goals for, 7 against, 13 points). TICO TEST. On paper, Costa Rica should have little trouble handling floundering Trinidad & Tobago, which has mustered only one point in six games. But Tico coach Alexandre Guimaraes is well aware of his nation's propensity to faltered against unfancied foes. This is a team that beat Mexico in Azteca Stadium in June but opened the semifinal round with a loss in Barbados. That was before Guimaraes took over as head coach, and so far he's had little trouble inspiring his troops. Tico striker Paulo Wanchope is coming off a five-goal Copa America performance but won't join the Ticos until the U.S. game Sept. 5, so Ronald Gomez is expected to spearhead the attack. T&T -- whose Dwight Yorke is out of the picture -- will depend on former Columbus Crew forward John Stern, currently with Nottingham Forest. Costa Rica beat T&T, 3-0, in their first meeting. JAMAICA-MEXICO: Boyz are vulnerable at home Sept. 2 in Kingston (National Stadium) TV: Univision, live, 5 pm ET. Referee: Gamal Ghandour (Egypt); STANDINGS: Jamaica, 4th in the Hexagonal (2 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses, 5 goals for 8 against, 8 points); Mexico, 5th in the Hexagonal (2 wins, 1 tie, 3 losses, 8 goals for, 8 goals against, 7 points) æTRIÆ MUST WIN. When Javier Aguirre guided Mexico to a 1-0 win in Azteca Stadium over the USA July 1 he revived Mexico's World Cup hopes. This is his first road test and anything less than a win could be fatal, because Mexico still meets Costa Rica on the road. Were the Mexicans to get three points, they'll jump into third place if the USA gets a result against Honduras. (The top three teams qualify.) After their runner-up finish at the Copa America the Mexicans should come in confident against a Jamaica squad whose home record in the Hexagonal consists of a 1-0 win over T&T and ties with Honduras and the USA.
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