USMNT Postmortem: Honduras Hangover
With a week gone by, contributing writer Scott Rutkowski recaps and reflects on the U.S. Men’s National Team 2-1 World Cup qualifier loss in Honduras. Are the Yanks “hexed?”
Just like the city of San Pedro Sula, the coaching by Jurgen Klinsmann, the game itself, and the outcome are not as horrific as what most people think. Our team went into a hostile stadium, played in a climate that must’ve felt like Louisville in July, and came away with one less point than what they were aiming for. That’s the gist of it really. But there are problems that must be addressed. Shall we take a look back? We shall.
The beginning was nothing spectacular and truthfully, its most exciting part was that Omar Gonzalez and Eddie Johnson started. This was expected though, as it was the first game in the Hexagonal. With the humidity, players from both teams looked like they were playing with ankle weights throughout the duration. But a reprieve from the US’s lethargic run of play came when Jermaine Jones saw the Honduras line creeping too far forward and floated a perfect ball over the top to Clint Dempsey, who made a well-timed run and struck an amazing right-footed volley into the back of the net.
Normally, no one would ever want Jones to drift far upfield, but when Deuce got on the end of the pass, the American Outlaws and I (along with other USMNT fans) went absolutely crazy while watching at Small Bar in Chicago. Even though the Honduras crowd went silent after the goal, the game picked up a bit from there and those in attendance slowly came back to life with a muted buzz.
Then came the “once in a century” goal from Honduras defender Carlos Garcia that reignited the home crowd. Fans on Twitter said it was Gonzalez’s fault, but it was really the whole team’s fault. Gonzalez didn’t clear the initial corner kick. Then, on the subsequent cross the team left two Honduras players open in the box. In the end, Geoff Cameron made a half-hearted attempt to clear the ball just before Garcia bicycle-kicked into the goal. A goal scored by the opposing team just before halftime feels terrible, for the team and fans alike.
The second half wound up being much like the first: half-chances here and there, consistent chanting and rhythms by the Honduras faithful, and players bogged down by the humidity. Near the hour mark, Klinsmann subbed in Maurice Edu for Danny Williams and Sacha Kljestan for Eddie Johnson. Both were straight swaps. These substitutions had a positive effect on the team. The U.S. retained more possession of the ball and strung better passes together. Fabian Johnson even came forward to give some width to the side.
Creating the game winning goal was not in the cards for the U.S. though. In the end, Honduras received all the joy and praise. With a little more than ten minutes left in the game, the Honduras players threatened. Geoff Cameron and Boniek Garcia chased a nice through pass from outside the box – and when I say Geoff Cameron “chased” after the ball, I mean he had good positioning on the offensive player. But for some reason, either by not communicating with goalkeeper Tim Howard or not giving his full effort, Cameron decided to let Boniek get to the ball first, who then played it across the box to Jerry Bengston for an easy goal.
Game. Over. There were some corner kicks at the end, and a free kick, but all was for naught. Once Honduras scored the go-ahead goal it was clear the USMNT would not come away with a point. It was a setback they didn’t have the energy to overcome.
Criticisms of Klinsmann
I agreed with most of his starting lineup, though there were some aspects I did not approve of. First, let’s address the back line. In particular, the central duo of Gonzalez and Cameron worried me from the outset. Most of the defenders had never played together, let alone in a Hexagonal match at a hostile stadium. Their inexperience showed as they were never calm on the ball and their communication was poor. The defense was continually unorganized. The solution: Carlos Bocanegra.
With fullback Steve Cherundolo injured, Boca was the man with enough experience to lead the back line. I saw a tweet that claimed the US would’ve let in five goals if Bocanegra had started. Wrong. He was a better choice for this defense. Though he is thirty-three and perhaps not suitable for next year’s World Cup, Bocanegra is not too old to face Honduras (or any other team for that matter) in the Hexagonal this year. Moreover, he plays in a better league than Omar Gonzalez and, unlike Geoff Cameron (who has started only one game at center back for Stoke City), Bocanegra has played nothing but center back for Spain’s Racing Santander.
Another questionable starting XI choice was Eddie Johnson. Why MLS’s “grown-ass man” got the start over Sacha Kljestan is beyond me. Sasha plays for the top club in Belgium (Anderlecht) and has Champions League experience. It’s not about positioning because even Klinsy himself said Kljestan can play on the half-left just like he did during the U.S.’s win over Italy in a 2012 friendly. So again, why Johnson?
My last two gripes with Klinsmann: 1) he subbed in Maurice Edu, a player who should never see the field for the USMNT, and 2) he played Jermaine Jones too far forward. When Graham Zusi subbed in for Jones everybody knew it was a straight swap, and that is not a good sign. Other than that, the onus for the loss was on the players.
GK Tim Howard, 6 – Made some nice saves. He couldn’t do anything about Garcia’s wunder-goal, and I don’t know what happened to his communication with Cameron on Bengston’s game winner, which should’ve been taken care of.
RB Timmy Chandler, 3 – cap-tying him was the only positive taken away from this game. He never went forward and seemed the slowest person on the field.
CB Omar Gonzalez, 5 – Like Chandler, Gonzalez is now cap-tied to the U.S. He was the best defender out there but made rookie mistakes. The big man’s got a lot of promise though.
CB Geoff Cameron, 2.5 – As mentioned above, he has only played center back once for Stoke. It showed. Cameron had a terrible game and didn’t do anything positive besides hoofing the ball up the field. His play on the second goal was a head-shaker. Gonzalez should start alongside Bocanegra in the middle in March.
LB Fabian Johnson, 4.5 – An average game. He made a great goal-saving stop in the first half and had some nice runs forward, but was beaten badly a few times.
DM Danny Williams, 3 – Wasn’t good on the ball and didn’t do much in front of the defense. He has barely played for Hoffenheim and that is likely the reason for his poor showing.
RM Jermaine Jones, 4.5 – He should never play so far upfield. He did set up Deuce’s goal though, and made a great pass to Eddie Johnson in the first half that almost gave Jozy Altidore an amazing goal. With Jones, you must always take the bad with the good.
CM Michael Bradley, 6 – Did a lot of box-to-box work, but he could’ve pushed the ball ahead more. He stayed in the US half too long. Bradley didn’t appear ready to lead this team, which he should.
LM Eddie Johnson, 4 – A below-average game. Made a nice cross to Altidore, but that was about it. His pace is better used in a super-sub role.
F Clint Dempsey, 5.5 – Great goal as usual from Deuce Face. Had a couple more chances he didn’t convert, but he wasn’t getting much quality service from his teammates.
F Jozy Altidore, 5.5 – A quiet game, but he put in the work. Unfortunately, Jozy didn’t get enough love from his teammates to be effective.
DM Maurice Edu, 5 – An ok game, but he shouldn’t be playing. Jermaine Jones should be the starting DM, with Danny Williams backing him up and Zusi on the right. This look makes Edu a third-choice player. For some reason though, Klinsmann loves playing Jones forward, and this opens up playing time for Edu
LM Sacha Kljestan, 5.5 – Controlled the ball and used the attacking instincts he applies in Belgium to get the ball forward. With Landon Donovan on hiatus, Sacha should start so the US can better control the midfield.
RM Graham Zusi, N/A – Didn’t get enough playing time to be evaluated fairly.
Next up for the USMNT is a March 22nd date against Costa Rica (Los Ticos) in Denver. In a rare strategic move by President Sunil Gulati and the US Soccer Federation, the next qualifier is scheduled in the Mile High City a few days before the USMNT must travel to play El Tri at altitude in Mexico City’s legendary Estadio Azteca on March 26th. A total of four points from these two games would be an ideal outcome for the Yanks.
Hopefully, the US can get the points they need. Jurgen Klinsmann must iron out the wrinkles in his selections and silence some of his critics by the end of March. If not, calls for his sacking may actually be considered by those who have a say in the matter.
Contributing Writer Scott Rutkowski is a lover of Chicago, sports, booze, food, history, and video games (all in that order). Follow him @scottathon_