USA Stumbles, Falls to Honduras
As the dude in the American Outlaws t-shirt at the bar (non-official or @ussoccer-approved) where I watched Wednesday's game said as time expired in San Pedro Sula, "Well, that sucked."
Not exactly the greatest way to kick off the final round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup Qualifying, was it?
There's a tendency to freak out and overreact after a result like this. I get that. In the grand scheme of things, losing on the road to an improved Honduras -- a team expert-at-life Nate Silver's numerology said would win -- isn't necessarily reason to panic. If the U.S. wins its home games, beats Jamaica away and gets some points vs. Costa Rica and Panama it's going to go to Brazil, regardless of the results vs. Mexico.
If the U.S. walked away from the Honduran heat with a draw, or protected Clint Dempsey's very nice goal which put them ahead in the first half, great. We would all have forgotten this match and moved on.
However, the way the U.S. played was ... well ... reason to freak out in earnest. You'd think, for whatever the numbers say, the U.S. is still better than Honduras.
Here's what I know, without slipping into hyperbole:
1. In the second half the U.S. created one solid chance to score, a shot by Dempsey deflected out for a corner.
2. Jozy Altidore, not to single him out, didn't distinguish himself given the starting spot as a lone forward by Jurgen Klinsman. (His PR firm in the U.S. media likely won't mention is name today, just a hunch)
3. Klinsmann's open, attack-minded 4-3-3 with Altidore up top and Eddie Johnson and Dempsey in support, created few chances throughout the match.
4. The greenhorn U.S. defense, including the competitive debuts for all intents and purposes for Timmy Chandler and Omar Gonzalez didn't pay off.
5. Tim Howard made a debatable decision to come off his line (due to a complete team defensive lapse, mind) and got burnt by Jerry Bentgson for the game-winner in the 79th minute.
6. Both teams played on the same grass in the same heat. Hard to use that as an excuse, though the Bundesliga winter break didn't exactly benefit the U.S. today in seamy Central America.
Here's what I don't know:
1. If Carlos Bocanegra had started, the U.S. defense would've been an air-tight, lock-down unit.
2. If Klinsmann played a more conservative gameplan, started Herculez Gomez or others, the result would have been different.
3. (And here's the scary thing) I don't, for the life of me, know if Klinsmann knows what he's doing.
That's the scary prospect here. For all that Klinsmann has talked about, changing the U.S. culture, not much is different. Sure the U.S. now has a win under its belt at the Azteca and Chandler is now cap-tied to the American cause, but beyond that?
Other coaches have gone to Central America and lost, but Klinsmann's run of excuses for the team's inability to put together a tight, tidy and complete 90 minutes of soccer has all but run out.
Ultimately the bare minimum anyone who cares about the U.S. National Team cares about is making the World Cup. It's the standard and it's pass fail. Right now, judging by the last round, too, Klinsmann is in danger of failing. There's justified lack of confidence in the team, calling into question his checkered managerial history despite what he did with Germany in 2006.
There's no need to go overboard, here, since Klinsmann is the coach for the U.S. through this cycle no matter what, considering his ties to Sunil Gulati.
Is this result the end of the world? No. Hardly.
Does it instill much reason to believe anything is going to change going forward? Nope.
Does it make the home game in Denver in March vs. Costa Rica a "must-win"? You bet.
Hard to figure any player walking off the field today will be too proud of their performance, either.
It all seemed to be setting up on a plate for a patented U.S. smash-and-grab, do nothing for the bulk of the match, only to grab a late result. Except today Howard had a shaky moment of indecision and wasn't able to bail out the lackluster defense. It's okay, I guess, Howard has bailed the U.S. defense out more times than we can all count. It underlines the slim margin the Americans play with each time out.
The U.S. wasn't good Wednesday, nor was it god-awful. It's not like Honduras played exceedingly great and ran them off the field. The heat was likely some cause of this for both sides. Given a chance to make a play late, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Bentgson did so and made the Americans pay, not unlike they've done to numerous opponents throughout the years.
Again, this isn't writing off the team. Come the end of the year, people will be looking for ways to book flights to Brazil, perhaps finding a room with Karl Pilkington's drag queen friend.
The sky isn't falling.
* Impossible to gauge this, but would the "experience" of Bocanegra made a difference on either Honduras goal? There's a chance, maybe, a player with Bocanegra's track record wouldn't switch off completely on the first Honduran goal (which lets face it was a hell of a bicycle kick by Juan Carlos Garcia). Perhaps. There's just as good a chance he'd have gotten skinned on the second goal like Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez.
* Juan Carlos Garcia, take a bow. Hell of a goal.
* Overall the U.S. defense was, if you're into the numbers thing, in the 4.0 or lower match rating . Cameron looked like a guy who's played the entire season in the midfield for Stoke City. Who's the alternative? Matt Besler? Thawing out Oguchi Onyewu? Hard to argument the high-risk, high-reward gamble Klinsmann tried with his defense didn't come up completely bust, particularly with Chandler and Fabian Johnson ineffective on the flanks.
* Not to pick on them but the Bundesliga guys (Jones, Danny Williams, Chandler, F. Johnson) didn't look sharp. Again Klinsmann rolled the dice playing all of them in an important game when their league only just resumed its play from a few weeks off. Going from the cold of Northern Europe to the tropics of Honduras is going to be a shock to the system for anyone.
* U.S. surprisingly got a break on a call, with the first would-be Honduras go-ahead goal properly waved off for offsides. Go figure.
* Few things are as inexcusable as giving up the equalizer like the U.S. did in the 40th, barely four minutes after Dempsey's strike. Hold the lead up halftime and it's a different match for the final 45. Would the U.S. have bunkered down and held it? The way the defenders played, probably not. Still, it's deflating to give up the tying goal that soon after you go ahead.
* Complaining about Jermaine Jones is like complaining about the weather at this point. Klinsmann has a blind eye for him and will keep using him, for better or for worse. He was pretty good Wednesday, with a great visionary pass to set up Dempsey's goal. Jones only made it through about 60 minutes until Maurice Edu had to come on.
* There's another time for this, yet it's a bit ridiculous fans in America could watch: England, Germany, France, Brazil and Mexico play with ease, but many had to result to McGyver-like means to watch the U.S. play.
* Ray Hudson, everyone's favorite Geordie announcer, is remarkably subdued when Lionel Messi isn't around.