By IVES GALARCEP
SALT LAKE CITY– By now, you have heard about all the Honduran injuries, and the suspensions, and how the ‘Catrachos’ will field a squad missing several players who started in February’s win vs. the U.S. Men’s National Team. While that is all true, Honduras won’t exactly be fielding a Tahiti-like squad when Tuesday night’s qualifier at Rio Tinto Stadium kicks off.
A total of at least five, and likely as many as six starters from the Honduran squad that beat the U.S. in San Pedro Sula will miss Tuesday’s match (Oscar Boniek Garcia is still a question mark). Victor Bernardez and Luis Garrido are suspended, and Maynor Figueroa is injured, meaning Honduras’ leading centerbacks and starting defensive midfielder won’t play. Then you have Jerry Bengtson’s decision to leave the team (though it’s no lock he would be playing even if he were here).
So why won’t this be a cakewalk for a U.S. team playing well and riding a four-match unbeaten run in CONCACAF qualifying? Honduras still boasts plenty of talent to make Tuesday’s match a tough one, and the Catrachos are entering the match off a win vs. Jamaica that has boosted their confidence heading into Tuesday’s match.
The U.S. will still be the favorite, and expected to make it nine points from three June qualifiers, but they will still need to deliver a strong game to knock off a patchwork Honduras side that still has plenty of firepower.
Here is a closer look at the match-up, and what you can expect to see from both teams:
Here is what the squads should look like when they take the field, including projected starters, and where on the field they should be found most often:
Some thoughts on the match-ups and lineups:
Carlo Costly has been cleared to play for Honduras, and while Honduras did play a one-forward system in his absence, the likely absence of Oscar Boniek Garcia coupled with Costly’s physical presence should lead to a Costly-Roger Rojas forward tandem.
Both Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez are familiar with Costly, and both know what a handful he can be. The real issue for them will be making sure they don’t lose track of Rojas, who will be looking to run off Costly and try and test the timing and positioning of Besler and Gonzalez.
Marvin Chavez and Mario Martinez should man the flanks, and yes, we could see a Sounder-on-Sounder match up with Martinez taking on Brad Evans. Chavez is no Boniek Garcia, but he’s still a handful and should keep Castillo (or Fabian Johnson) occupied. As for Martinez, as outstanding a game as he played against the U.S. in February, he quite frankly hasn’t come anywhere close to that level ever since. If Honduras watched the USA-Panama game, they will know that speed can trouble Evans, and Martinez has plenty of speed (but Evans is also very familiar with Martinez).
Boniek Garcia still hasn’t been ruled out, but it’s tough to see him starting after failing to train for the past week. At best he should be an option off the bench.
For my money, the match-up in central midfield is the real headliner. Whether it’s Geoff Cameron or Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley will partner with someone who will face a stiff challenge from Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios. Espinoza was one of the key figures in February’s win for Honduras, and his tireless work rate will be something Jones and Bradley have to deal with.
Palacios has become a bit of a forgotten man, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was a player for Tottenham and one of the best midfielders in CONCACAF. He isn’t at that level anymore, but he’s a pit bull, and seeing him do battle with Jermaine Jones will be fun to watch.
Speaking of Jones, with U.S. Soccer clearing him to play it seems highly unlikely that he would sit for this match. I’m of the opinion that we should see a bit more of the Michael Bradley-Geoff Cameron combination, but Jones is clearly Klinsmann’s top choice to start in the No. 6 role so if he’s healthy he starts. You can also rest assured Jones remembers how badly he played against Honduras in February, and he’s itching to face them again.
Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi should be called on to provide service from the flanks, but Honduras does boast a pair of solid fullbacks who could stifle the U.S. wingers. Arnold Peralta and Emilio Izaguirre are both good, and Peralta did well to contain Eddie Johnson in February. The Izaguirre-Zusi match-up should be an entertaining one. The Celtic fullback is one of the best left backs in CONCACAF, and if Zusi has aspirations of playing in Europe, he would surely impress scouts with a strong game against Izaguirre.
Some will ask why Klinsmann wouldn’t just slide Fabian Johnson to left back, and insert Eddie Johnson on the left wing. Fabian Johnson has played strictly on the left wing in the recent run of matches and it is clear Klinsmann likes what he has seen from him there. Keeping him on the left flank not only allows him to gain more experience and familiarity with that role, it also gives Castillo a well-deserved chance to start in an important match.
So how does Honduras beat the U.S.? If Martinez gets the better of his Sounders teammate, if Costly’s physical presence creates space for Rojas to use his speed to find chances, and if Chavez can get the better of Edgar Castillo, then Honduras has a good chance. Even with that, they still need their defense to hold up, which is far from a guarantee.
Why will the U.S. win? Jozy Altidore will be too much for Honduras’ centerback to handle, and his physical presence should create some room for Clint Dempsey to operate. Bradley should have another strong match, and near the top of his list of things to do is contain Espinoza, who will be vital to Honduras’ ability to maintain possession.
Look for Besler and Gonzalez to play an outstanding match similar to their performance in Azteca, look for the U.S. to win the battle in central midfield, and look for Dempsey to get back to his goal-scoring ways. We’ll go with a 2-0 U.S. victory, on goals from Dempsey and Altidore.
How do you see the match going? Think Honduras can pull the upset, or think the U.S. is just playing too well right now?
Share your thoughts below.