In the Hexagonal, there are three teams with three matches remaining that can realistically finish third and avoid a do-or-die playoff against an Asian team in November.
Honduras pulled itself into a third-place tie with the U.S. Friday in familiar fashion: goals by players with MLS ties. Former Dynamo; Alexander Lopez
and current member Alberth Elis scored the goals by which the Catrachos ended a four-game winless run in the Hexagonal and upped the ante considerably for its home game against the
Americans Tuesday (5:20 pm ET, BeIN Sports, NBC Universo) in San Pedro Sula.
San Jose Earthquakes forward Marco Urena did the damage Friday night in Costa
Rica’s 2-0 victory that coupled with Honduras’ victory, knotted the teams in the standings with eight points (two wins, three defeats, two ties).
While only four players named
to the squad by head coach Jorge Luis Pinto ply their trade in MLS, three of them do so for the Dynamo, and no doubt the scouting information provided by Elis, Romell Quioto and Oscar
Boniek Garcia – as well as that of FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa – will find its way into Pinto’s game plan. Honduras likes to attack with speed and get in behind the
opposing back line, though it can also pick out players arriving late and finding shooting angles left by defenders backtracking too deeply.
Lopez, who plays domestically for
Olimpia, is one of numerous players familiar with MLS teams through the Concacaf Champions League, and many of the regulars on the squad have played the U.S. in qualifiers and/or the Gold Cup. In hot,
humid conditions amid the threat of thunderstorms, the home-field advantage will be significant.
A tie would leave everything still to be won heading into the final two Hexagonal rounds next month, though the Americans would retain a huge edge
in goal difference. A win for either team doesn’t clinch anything but would push one team three points in front of the other, and though Honduras concludes the Hex against the top two teams,
Mexico and Costa Rica, it could meet foes already qualified.
Mexico wrapped up a spot in Russia 2018 by edging Panama, 1-0, and a win for Costa Rica – which
hosts El Tri – would clinch a spot for the Ticos, who can also qualify if they tie Mexico, the Honduras-USA match does not end in a tie, and Panama ties or loses its game with T&T.
The Honduran defeat of T&T and the U.S. loss revived qualifying hopes that had collapsed in a 6-0 loss to the Americans in late March. In the next three games,
Honduras tied Costa Rica (1-1) at home, lost at Mexico (0-3) and tied in Panama (2-2). In the latter game, Honduras led, 2-1, on goals by Quioto and Elis, only to be stung by a Roman Torres
goal in the 90th minute.
As they had against Panama, in Couva Honduras scored an early goal -- Lopez in the seventh minute -- to take the lead, but then got a
second goal from Elis just nine minutes later. T&T fought back and closed to within 2-1 when Sounder Joevin Jones converted a penalty kick midway through the second half. Honduras held on
as each team lost a player to a red card and an Elis shot hit the woodwork.
After defender Emilio Izaguirre left the game with his second caution, Pinto
replaced both goalscorers, so they should be relatively fresh to face the U.S. Another familiar face, veteran Carlo Costly, played the entire second half as a sub, which gives the U.S.
coaching staff another wily, fast attacker to worry about. Costly, 35, quit the national team a year and a half ago after a dispute with Pinto, yet came into the match at halftime with Honduras
leading, 2-0, and so apparently could be in the coach’s plans no matter how the game unfolds.
Honduras struggled through four Gold Cup games in July without scoring a single goal
and while the Costly recall surprised many people it does make sense.
The loss of Izaquirre to suspension is probably balanced out by the suspension of U.S.
forward Jozy Altidore. In the 6-0 rout Clint Dempsey rang up a hat trick for the Americans and despite being blanked at home by Costa Rica, they will note that Honduras has yet to post a
shutout in the Hexagonal.
Though tied with the U.S. in standings on points, Honduras has a daunting goal difference of minus-7. (The U.S. is plus-one). If it can
beat the U.S. Tuesday it will open up a three-point edge on the Americans and also narrow that gulf in goal difference should the first tiebreaker come into play.