Three keys to USA-Honduras

Each Hexagonal match offers up three points, and thus in theory are of equal value, and never before has the U.S. played the third game with zero points from the first two.

A victory over Honduras Friday in San Jose (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, 10:30 p.m. ET) is essential to restore team confidence for the seven remaining Hexagonal matches as well as get the U.S. off the bottom of the standings. Anything but a win would leave the U.S. with no more than one point from its first two home games, and likely needing results in at least three of the four away games to edge into the top three and automatic qualification for Russia 2018.

There’s also the issue of how the team is responding to the change of head coaches. Team spirit was high in the January camp and during several days of training this week in San Jose players have expressed a strong desire to get the campaign back on track. They also exude confidence in the tactics and personnel to be chosen by Bruce Arena, whose prior national-team stint took him through the 2001 and 2005 qualifying campaigns.

Here are three keys to how this crucial qualifier may be determined.
1. Backups in name only.

It’s rare when a national team can pick its strongest squad, yet the sidelining of several regulars -- especially in problem areas like right back (DeAndre Yedlin) and forward (Bobby Wood) and wherever Fabian Johnson would have played – have ratcheted up anxiety among U.S. fans.

The coaches and players have maintained steadfastly the team’s depth is more than deep enough to deliver enough quality performances to get the job done. Captain Michael Bradley, however, went to far as to put out some numbers in this regard. If enough U.S. players raise their games to the required level, Honduras will struggle to match the overall performance.

“Still in a moment like this it’s going to come down to the group on the night playing a really good game,” said Bradley. “It’s not a complicated thing but to win a big game you need six, seven, eight guys to play really well, to play real good games, and you need the others to be good and solid.

“If all of a sudden you don’t get enough guys playing good games and now the others are not good, that’s the recipe for losing a game like we did in Costa Rica. It’s not complicated, right? We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

One player expected to be a backup, Clint Dempsey, could be pressed into the starting lineup in place of Wood. In a game where there could few good chances and several of the marginal variety, Dempsey’s knack for finding the ball and punching it home is unmatched on the U.S. squad.

The Americans do have enough players good enough to get this job done but they must do so under extreme pressure, and they will have to rely on at least a couple of players unfamiliar with this aspect of Concacaf play.
2. The Dynamo factor.

In just three league games for Houston, forwards Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto have torn into opposing penalty areas often enough to remind observers of what the Honduran attack is capable of. They don’t have the same quirks as Dynamo teammate Boniek Garcia, whose tenure in MLS has been equal parts frustration and celebration.

Much pre-game speculation has centered on left back DaMarcus Beasley, who plays with the Honduran trio in Houston and thus has been a vital source as to their strengths and weaknesses as well as their tendencies. He’s also vastly versed in Hexagonal games and even at 34, might be chosen by Arena as a starter for his speed along with experience.

Of course, the in-house scouting works both ways. The Honduran trio sees Beasley just as often as he sees them in training sessions as well as games. Their presence on the Honduran roster has added another element of intrigue to the pre-game buildup but the bottom line is that Arena will decide on Beasley based on his experience and leadership.

Arena praised Jorge Villafana for his performance against Jamaica in early February and how this game unfolds could depend greatly on whether Arena opts for experience or youth. Outside backs are often isolated against a tricky attacker, of which Honduras will have several in the starting lineup.
3. Will adverse conditions slow down Honduras?

Heavy rains and strong winds are forecast in the hours leading up to kickoff, and the vaunted speed of the Honduran attackers might be blunted on a soggy surface. However, challenges and tackles increase in cost as conditions deteriorate and the Americans must be mindful of being drawn into high-risk confrontations.

The size and strength of the Americans during set plays and scrambles could be a decisive factor. Arena could field John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron along with Jozy Altidore. With that much height and power on the field, the USA will seeking corner kicks and free kicks at every opportunity.
8 comments about "Three keys to USA-Honduras".
  1. Wooden Ships, March 24, 2017 at 10:40 a.m.

    Good luck tonight boys. I'm sorry, but MB's cliches are hollow, for me. He has had far more underwhelming outings, since Brazil, than inspired Captain worthy positive games. Of course we need players having great effort and yes, sometimes that overcomes technical-clinical performance. I heard Meola and Stone yesterday citing the need to reclaim that fighting spirit and toughness. How did the players let that get away and what's the difficulty of being ready for meaningful international games. Their conversation sounded like it did 20 years ago. I don't know that field conditions will inhibit Honduras, if anything it might effect us more. My view. I can see Arena going tall where possible trying to score from re-starts. We need to score goals though and I hope he opts for Villifana.

  2. frank schoon replied, March 24, 2017 at 3:36 p.m.

    Ship, just read MB's real game insight prognosis....The man's know his stuff alright. WOW. I better write this down to use it for my next practice session.....

  3. frank schoon, March 24, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

    The only sure key they need is the one that would lock the door of the Honduras team locker room

  4. Wooden Ships replied, March 24, 2017 at 4:44 p.m.

    A locked door would delay the start. Surely someone would go looking for them? I do hope we get 3 points and I don't enjoy being critical of players. I've never seen Michael as a good choice as Captain and I hope he has a wonderful game. I guess the frustration is with players that can't get ready to perform. And, that we still struggle with talented midfield play and not having a a stable of goal scorers at the striker position to choose from. Yes, I did read LD's surprise that we aren't further along. I was surprised that he was surprised. For me not having Wood and Fabian tonight will hurt tonight. I was in Costa Rica last week and the Tico's are fired up for their match at the Azteca tonight. Should be two fun matches to watch.

  5. cisco martinez, March 24, 2017 at 4:39 p.m.

    We need to go after Honduras early, put them under pressure, we need to score early, the longer the game drags on the more desperate we may become. Interested to see what type of formation and personnel Arena puts out there. Arena knows pressure and generally does well under it, go go USA!

  6. Wooden Ships replied, March 24, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.

    Ditto that Cisco. If I were Honduras, and they might, I would overplay us from jump.

  7. Bob Ashpole, March 25, 2017 at 7:18 a.m.

    I thought your 3 points were right on the spot.

  8. Nick Daverese, March 27, 2017 at 7:14 a.m.

    If I remember right. I used to have a great memory but those days are gone. They used to drink a ton of coffee before a game they thought they played better as a performance enhancer. I thought coffee can act as a directive and I thought you can fail a doping test because of all the cafeen it. They lost anyway if I recall?

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