Photo by John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
SANDY, Utah– The referee’s assistant raised his flag in the warm Utah air and defied the screaming fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. He waved off a Jozy Altidore goal (rightfully) for offside, denying Altidore what would have been his fourth goal in four consecutive matches, and denying the U.S. a goal after 59 frustrating minutes of scoreless soccer.
At least for 14 more minutes.
Altidore made sure that neither the referee’s assistant or the Honduran defense denied him the next time he had a chance on goal, burying a Fabian Johnson pass for the game winner in the 73rd minute to give the U.S. Men’s National Team a 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night.
The victory, coupled with Costa Rica’s victory vs. Panama on Tuesday night, leaves the U.S. two points clear of the rest of the field in CONCACAF qualifying, and six points ahead of fourth-place Honduras with four rounds of Hex matches remaining.
The U.S. entered the match as heavy favorites against a short-handed Honduran side, but they couldn’t convert their dominating edge in possession into goals as the ‘Catracho’ defense held firm in the first half.
The Americans eventually began to find a better rhythm in the second half and appeared to break through when Altidore slipped behind the Honduran defense to slot home a goal that sent the sellout crowd into euphoria, only to have the goal disallowed for offside.
The U.S. kept pressing and finally unlocked the Honduran defense when a Clint Dempsey pass sprang Fabian Johnson down the left flank, where Johnson delivered a hard and low pass to Altidore, who re-directed it past Noel Valladares for the winning goal and his fourth goal in four consecutive matches, making him the sixth U.S. player to accomplish that feat.
The U.S. defense put up another strong performance, delivering their fourth shutout in six CONCACAF Hex qualifiers. Tim Howard made one save in the shutout.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann moved Fabian Johnson to left back, bringing back Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi to the starting lineup after both sat out the win vs. Panama.
Fabian Johnson performed well in the first half, sending in a series of dangerous crosses that tested the Honduran defense.
Honduras defended very well in the first half, putting good pressure in midfield and forcing the U.S. to settle for long balls more often than the American attack usually does. Jermaine Jones and Bradley held down the midfield well, though Espinoza gave the U.S. defense fits early on, drawing a pair of dangerous free kicks that both were wasted.
Honduras came into the match missing several starters, including suspended regulars Victor Bernardez and Luis Garrido, as well as injured regulars Oscar Boniek Garcia and Osman Chavez, but they performed well and frustrated the U.S., particularly in the first half.
The U.S. heads into the summer break in first place in the HEX, with their next qualifier set for Sept. 6th vs. Costa Rica in San Jose, where the Americans have never won a match.
What did you think of the match What U.S. player impressed you the most? See the Americans winning in Costa Rica?
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