The USA’s World Cup Qualifying series with Honduras has served up memorable matches at every turn. Ahead of USA-Honduras, presented by Volpi Foods, take a photographic look back at the series with the players that were heroes along the way.
Following a wild set of matches in 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifying the U.S. earned two comeback wins during the 2009 Hexagonal, sending the team on its way to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Current MNT captain Michael Bradley and other players look back on the most recent series during the 2013 Hexagonal.
Feb. 6, 2013 – Honduras 2, USA 1
The U.S. opened the Final Round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying with a difficult away fixture in Honduras. Wanting to get off on the right foot, the home side elected for an early afternoon kickoff, when the sun and heat were at their highest, to give Los Catrachos more of a home-field advantage.
“It was a brutal day,” remembers MNT captain Michael Bradley. “It was hot as could be, humid and this was back when there were still single fixture dates. I believe this was a game on a Wednesday where we had all played on the weekend and were returning right after the game to play another game with our club teams. As usual, we met in Miami on Sunday or Monday, flew down to Honduras, trained once in the stadium and then played.
“Those fixtures were always whirlwinds, and when you add in the fact that most of us were playing in places where in February the weather was cool [eight of the 11 starters were playing in Europe at the time], it meant that it was a real challenge in terms of the conditions and getting ourselves ready. It was early afternoon, very hot and the grass there is traditionally left very long and is slow and thick. We knew from the beginning it was going to be a tough day.”
As expected, the early moments of the match saw Honduras on the front foot, but the U.S. sustained the pressure as they served up a few opportunities that Tim Howard easily dealt with.
“We were having to defend and take care of some things, but I don’t think it was huge chance after huge chance. Nonetheless, they had the upper hand and they were looking at home to really be aggressive. We were able to withstand some pressure and quite honestly you’re always going to have to do that on the road in qualifying.”
The U.S. picked its moments and came close when Eddie Johnson crossed for Jozy Altidore who’s flick-on redirection grazed just over the bar in the 29th minute.
Two more Honduras chances came just after the half-hour mark when Roger Espinoza made his way into the box and pushed the ball past Tim Howard, only to have Fabian Johnson clear the danger away from lurking Honduras forward Jerry Bengtson. Moments later, Espinoza forced a turnover at the back which led to Mario Martínez blasting a shot that Howard had to punch over the bar.
Against that pressure, the U.S. found the go-ahead goal in the 36th minute. A small bit of possession in midfielder resulted in Jermaine Jones sending a weighted ball into the area, where Clint Dempsey timed his run before volleying past Noel Valladares and inside the left post.
“There are going to be periods where you have to deal with the home team really being aggressive and coming at you and you have to understand in those moments how to take care of things and still not give anything away,” Bradley said. “I thought we were able to do that and obviously it ends with the fact that we were able to get a really good goal to go up 1-0.”
While the U.S. looked to take the lead into halftime, the goal instead galvanized Honduras, who struck back three minutes later. Following a corner kick, defender Victor Bernárdez chased down a ball in the right corner and crossed for Maynor Figueroa. The center back chested the ball up in the air where Juan Carlos García rose to slam home a bicycle kick inside the top left post.
“To give away a goal right after we went up 1-0 and right before halftime was not ideal in any way. In a game like that if you can take your goal into halftime and they’ll have a little bit of time to regroup and get yourselves ready for the second half. That makes a big difference.”
Halftime did little to quell the Honduras attack. Oscar Boniek García fired just wide of Howard’s goal in the 52nd minute and what looked like the go-ahead goal was waved off when Carlo Costly was judged to be offside.
“We couldn’t make a play. Obviously the longer the game goes, the heat and travel certainly come into play. In the end, those are thing we’ve all dealt with before and to not be able to walk out of there with a point was very disappointing.”
Tiring in the afternoon heat, the U.S. mostly bunkered in hopes of stealing a point, but finally conceded what would stand as the game-winner in the 79 the minute. A worn-out U.S. defense saw Figueroa slip Boniek Garcia through before sliding for Jerry Bengtson who finished into an empty net.
“I just remember us being slow to react all afternoon and a little bit sluggish and you see that on both of the goals we gave away.”
June 18, 2013 – USA 1, Honduras 0
The U.S. rebounded from that opening defeat, earning a 1-0 victory against Costa Rica in the famous SnowClasico on March 22 before an historic 0-0 draw away to Mexico four days later. Entering the summer set of qualifiers, the MNT used a late goal from Brad Evans to earn a 1-0 win at Jamaica on June 7, and goals from Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore to take a 2-0 home win vs. Panama on June 13.
Those four results gave the MNT plenty of momentum going into the June 18 date against Honduras in Salt Lake City, with a win vs. Los Catrachos likely setting the U.S. up for qualification come the September international window.
Playing at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the U.S. pressed the attack early on, with Clint Dempsey’s seventh-minute header going just wide of the right post. Moments later, Fabian Johnson exploited the left flank and crossed for Eddie Johnson whose one-time effort was only kept out with a sprawling save from Valladares.
A scoreless first half led to more U.S. chances in the second, with Dempsey leading the way.
The veteran forward’s snap header was well-saved in the 56th minute. Four minutes later, a wild scramble in the box concluded with Dempsey heading the ball down where Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios committed a clear hand ball, yet avoided a penalty kick. In the 70th minute, Graham Zusi crossed for Dempsey again, but his glancing header was again kept out by Valladares.
Just as it looked like the goal might not fall for the U.S., Dempsey and Johnson worked a quick combination up the left, before centering for Altidore who coolly finished to the back post, scoring in his fourth-consecutive U.S. match.
The MNT locked down and closed out the game, and that September defeated Mexico 2-0 in Columbus to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.Read more
Feb. 4, 2013
On beginning the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying:
“We are very excited to get the Hexagonal started with that game in Honduras on Wednesday afternoon. We are excited because it looks like we’re going to have everybody coming in healthy and ready to go for a very important game. We want to start the qualifying round on the right foot. We want to go to Honduras with confidence and determination to get, hopefully, a win. That’s our goal and there’s a lot of work behind us, especially with the group that was part of the January camp that already started this preparation. Obviously the Europeans and the players that are based in Mexico are now joining us finally so we’re all ready to go.”
On whether he sees Mexico and the U.S. qualifying relatively easily out of the group or whether it will be a struggle:
“There is no easy way, not for Mexico, not for the United States, not for anybody. You have to get your points, you have to win your games and you have to get the job done. You have to go into every game with the expectation that it’s going to be difficult, that it will challenge you to the limits. That’s our approach: take it seriously every time you go out onto the field, very seriously, and be very awake and then we’ll see how it runs out through those 10 games. I told the players it’s all about alertness, commitment and determination. The way they train, the way they presented themselves already this morning, it looks like they are ready.”
“It is exciting for us to see players like Omar [Gonzalez] now being ready at the international level. Matt Besler is knocking at the door, he had a very strong January camp. Others as well, Brad Davis or Brad Evans, they are here because they had a very impressive three-and-a-half weeks in January in camp with us. Clarence [Goodson] is in preseason right now in Denmark and Gooch is not playing at all at Malaga, so there are always reason for why we choose certain players and why we do certain things. We believe Matt Besler has the capabilities to step it up to the international level. So does Omar, so that gives us more options in a very busy year in 2013.” On going to San Pedro Sula to play in a World Cup qualifier:
“Every continent has its tricky parts and difficult environments and San Pedro Sula definitely has its own difficult environment, but those are challenges that players need. They need to go through those games, they need to prove themselves and they need to find ways, on the field, to get the job done. I will always welcome these opportunities, these matches, because that’s what it’s all about: going to these places that are not your home, cozy environment and proving a point. The players are ready for that. Some have been down there already and others have played enough World Cup qualifiers already. We have an experienced team. We have players that are ready to step it up but obviously you know to expect a difficult situation.”
On Jozy Altidore, his club season and what he expects of him moving forward:
“We are very pleased with Jozy’s development over the time I’ve been in charge. We don’t expect him to be perfect. He’s a still very young player who is developing. He is becoming more consistent. He scores goals on a regular basis for Alkmaar. He’s already done a lot in such a young career. I think the way he managed that situation last week was awesome. He deserves a big compliment. He’s still going through a maturing curve on the field and off the field, and our job is to get him to an international, consistent level. By consistency I mean, as a striker, we would like to work him towards the way where he scores consistently for us. He did the first couple of steps already in the club environment - he is becoming a consistent goal scorer. He is settled in Europe now after a little bit of a roller coaster since his transfer there at the age of 18 and it’s great to see. We work on his consistency. He is maturing automatically. The way he presented himself last game against Russia and the way he worked for the team was very, very positive. We will just keep working with him whenever we have him.”
“Sacha is similar to Jozy. He’s becoming a consistent influence in his club. We watch his club games. We have people there that scout him, that go to Anderlecht and see his games. He’s done very well. He won the championship and played in European competition and he is also becoming more of a consistent element overseas and we want him to bring that kind of quality back into the National Team environment. He’s been a bit in and out also because of the depth that we have in the midfield. We have an enormous amount of quality in every midfield position and that’s why there’s obviously a fight going on for those spots. But he’s always been in our plans and our roster and we are pleased with his development over the last couple of years.”
On excitement of having Timmy Chandler in the mix:
“It’s a huge opportunity for Timmy and I think he’s simply just maturing. He’s growing into his role as a fulltime professional and that’s why we were very patient with Timmy to mature. It’s a coach’s job to understand where certain players are in their own process and pick them up to help them get to the next level. We are patient with Timmy to get to the next level, and now there is this opportunity of a big World Cup qualifier coming up. He had a game yesterday, but he comes in on the right foot with a win for his club team which was very important for them, and hopefully with a lot of confidence now joining us today in Miami and then going down to Honduras. It also gives us more options and more quality in our own roster. He definitely has qualities you’ve seen already in some games that we want to build on. He still has a lot to improve, he still has a way to go, which is alright; he’s only 23-years of age.”
On calling in Jose Torres for the first time since the September qualifiers:
“He was injured in October, but we know Jose’s qualities and we know his game. I think that move from Pachuca to Tigres is another step upwards. It helps him to get to a higher level and also moves him out a bit of his comfort zone and the place he grew up and played for eight years. Now in a new environment he needs to prove himself and become a starter. He started the season off really well and he’s a player that has so much more to reach, and we will help him in that process.”
On if all players called in for qualifier are fit to start:
“They need to be fit to start, all of them. In a time window of three days we can’t afford to bring anyone in with question marks. That’s why we also chose to give out the roster so late, to see who’s healthy or not, but we are thrilled because everybody’s on board. It is very important to know that a player who flies in is ready to go. We can’t bring a player in if he has question marks and injuries. That doesn’t work in such a short period of time.”
On Honduras and where they fall in the hierarchy of CONCACAF:
“We have a lot of respect for this team. I think they’ve done very well over the last couple of years, obviously qualifying for South Africa, challenging us and Mexico in this region and having players overseas with more presence than ever before. I personally saw them in South Africa in games and the only thing they were lacking was the confidence to beat one of the bigger nations, to really believe in it at the end of the day and playing-wise they’ve done well. You have strikers up front in Bengtson who can always harm an opponent, and you have Espinoza in midfield who has a lot of creativity and a wonderful touch. They have a very strong defense physically so that’s why we respect them. That’s why we’ve done our homework. You’ve got to give them a compliment to what they’ve done over the last couple of years.” Read more