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
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
. With that much height and power on the field, the USA will seeking corner kicks and free kicks at every opportunity.