The good news: The USA will qualify if it beats Jamaica on Wednesday. Or if it ties the Jamaicans and Honduras fails to beat Guatemala by seven goals.
Even if things don’t work out for the Americans on Wednesday, they’ll remain in the running. Their worst-case scenario is a do-or-die playoff on Sunday against one of the four teams that finished second or third in the two groups. (Group winners play for the Concacaf title with their World Cup spots already guaranteed.)
U-17 World Cup qualifying: Concacaf schedule and results
Coach Richie Williams’ team entered Sunday’s games after comfortable wins over Cuba (5-0), Trinidad & Tobago (2-0) and Guatemala (4-1). Honduras had beaten Jamaica (2-0) and T&T (2-0) and tied Cuba (1-1).
For the first time in this tournament, the young Americans faced a team that attacked constantly and played in front of more than a sprinkling of spectators. In fact, the 18,000-seat Francisco Morazon Stadium was intimidatingly packed with home team supporters, including jerks who threw debris at U.S. goalkeeper Will Pulisic.
Pulisic made a spectacular diving save on Darixon Vuelto’s hard low shot in the 77th to preserve the 2-1 lead. But he was stunned when Sanchez seemed to misjudge a chip from Jorge Alvarez only to watch the ball bounce off Sanchez's shoulder and loop into the top corner of the goal.
In the 90th minute, the U.S. sub Brandon Vazquez dribbled from the halfway line toward the Catrachos' goal before Alvarez clipped him from behind at the edge of the penalty area and got red-carded. The Americans squandered the free kick and settled for a tie, which serves them better than it does the Hondurans.
The USA had gone down 1-0 in the 16th minute, but were ahead, 2-1, by halftime thanks to goals by Luca de la Torre and Josh Perez, his fourth goal of the tourney. Perez also assisted on de la Torre’s goal.
Most impressive was how the USA responded after falling behind in the first half. Honduras did take control in the second half, but the U.S. defense, hardly called upon in the first three games, stifled the Catrachos until the shoulder goal.
The Americans played without stellar playmaker Christian Pulisic, who suffered a knee bruise against Guatemala, and stayed on the bench.
Two years ago, when Panama hosted the qualifiers, Honduras knocked out the USA with a 3-1 win, marking the first time the USA missed the U-17 World Cup since its inception in 1985.
This time the U.S. youngsters didn’t fail their high-pressure test.
March 6 in San Pedro Sula
Honduras 2 USA 2. Goals: Matamoros 16, Sanchez (Alvarez) 88; de la Torre (Perez) 23, Perez 32.
Honduras -- Perello; Matamoros, Andrade (Vuelto, 46), Maldonado, Ortiz; Grant, Arias, Alvarez, Galeano, Vargas (Sanchez, 80); Quaye (Sevilla, 71).
USA -- W.Pulisic; Olosunde, Velela, Arellano, Nelson (Da Silva, 82); Calvillo, de la Torre (Adams, 67), Zendejas; Perez, Gallardo (Vazquez 73), Wright.