International Friendly Preview: USMNT vs. Honduras
Austin Fido has a glance at USMNT and Honduras, two CONCACAF teams off to divergent starts to the new World Cup cycle…
The first match of USMNT’s post-Landon era looks like a gimme: the Honduras national team is at a low ebb, drubbed out of the World Cup with one goal and zero wins, and stumbling to fifth place in the recently concluded Copa Centroamericana.
It has been a precipitous decline for the team regarded as third-best in CONCACAF as recently as the start of the last Hexagonal. And there is little reason to expect Los Catrachos to break out of their current spiral.
Honduras is not a bad team, even if the present squad is missing significant contributors like Osman Chávez, Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios. The roster still includes a seasoned core – Victor Bernardez, Maynor Figueroa, Emilio Izaguirre, and Oscar Boniek Garcia – bolstered by some rapidly rising young talent (Luis Garrido and Andy Najar).
Unfortunately, the talent pool starts to look a little shallow up front. Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly were the go-to goal scorers heading into the World Cup, but the latter is retired and the former chronically short of form.
There are a lot of forwards jostling for the role of leading the team’s attack, but none has stepped up to conclusively seize the opportunity. Anthony Lozano, Rony Martínez, Jonathan Mejía, Diego Reyes and Bryan Róchez have collectively managed to score two goals in 32 appearances. Not one of them is in the squad picked to face USMNT.
Instead, the Yanks will face some combination of Roger Rojas, Romell Quioto and Alberto Elis – an 18-year-old striker whose first goals as a professional have all arrived this season. If you follow US Soccer very closely, you may remember Elis as one of the guys who scored to help Honduras’s U-17 team qualify for the 2013 U-17 World Cup at the expense of their US counterparts.
Honduras is not a team in transition. Coach Hernan Medford has exactly the right balance of experience and youth to choose from at pretty much every position, except in the forward line.
This make Los Catrachos particularly suitable opponents for Jürgen Klinsmann at this stage in his work to reshape USMNT for the 2018 World Cup cycle. Honduras should present a pretty experienced back line and midfield, which is good news for Klinsi, who wants to get Jozy Altidore firing again, but not against transparently sub-par opposition.
Recent results notwithstanding, and even absent established players like Espinoza and Juan Carlos García (you remember him), Honduras can put out one of the better defensive units in CONCACAF. And good opposition is an important component of encouraging a faltering player to raise their game.
So too is playing alongside quality teammates. Altidore stood out as one of the better players in USMNT’s lineup in the last game against Ecuador, but he was also one of the more experienced guys on the roster. He should have stood out in that lineup.
This time around, Klinsi can put out a World-Cup strength front six, if he chooses: Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, plus Altidore. Mix Diskerud should surely now be considered among the leading options in the USMNT midfield pool; Joe Corona has long been a player Klinsi seems to want to include among his very best.
Much of the pre-game discussion has been speculation about Klinsmann’s preferred tactics, but one suspects his focus is more on revitalizing Altidore. There is plenty of time to work out the best system for the team, but first there must be some agreement on who is in the best team. The short-term goal must surely be to ensure senior players are settled in with the sort of club situations that will allow them to remain useful to the national team for the next cycle.
The last thing Klinsi wants is for Jozy to go the way of Brek Shea (who is less than six months younger than Altidore), which means the priority should be to let the man use his USMNT appearances to rekindle his form and get himself out of a bad spot in Sunderland.
This may be one reason why Klinsmann has chosen to stack his midfield and forward selections for this game with considerably more experience than he picked to play against Ecuador.
At the back, however, it is a different story. There are six defenders on the roster, and one of them – DeAndre Yedlin – may be destined for a career as a midfielder, at least whenever he plays for Klinsi.
It would not be a surprise to see Yedlin start again at right midfield, with Timothy Chandler behind him. Matt Besler has been swapped in for Omar Gonzalez, but Michael Orozco, Tim Ream and Greg Garza have been retained.
Of the three, Garza looks like the most likely to be a long-term addition to the squad. That is not to say Klinsmann isn’t giving Orozco and Ream a fair shot – both appear to be legitimate contenders for at least the third-choice center back slot on the USMNT depth chart.
But Klinsi has kicked off the new cycle by taking a long look at Garza, and the young left back hasn’t done much wrong in his first two appearances for the Stars and Stripes. Honduras should present a third opportunity, against – on paper, at least – the weakest attack Garza has faced in a USA jersey to date.
The wild-card picks on the roster are Alfredo Morales, Bobby Wood and Miguel Ibarra. Morales and Wood both saw time on the field against Ecuador – and Wood will need to make the most of any opportunity he is given against Honduras, otherwise it could be a while before he gets called up again.
One hopes Ibarra gets a run in this game. He is not the only second-division player in the squad (Morales and Wood both play in 2. Bundesliga), but he is the only one without a cap for his country. And if it was worth Klinsi’s time to keep Ibarra on the roster for both the October friendlies, then one might think it is worth giving the NASL star a chance to show whatever it is he has to offer in a USMNT shirt.
Want more USMNT coverage?
Austin Fido is OTF Soccer’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor. He tweets @canetop.