There are those times when it seems everything possible can work against you to turn the average day into a complete and utter failure. The circumstances surrounding the United States’ opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final Round of Qualifying campaign fit that bill completely.
They had to start out on the road, in probably the most daunting environment they will face. Honduras declared Wednesday a National Holiday in order to allow their citizens to prepare for this match against these Gringos from the North.
They then had to face temperatures in the 90′s. The starting XI was filled with players plying their trade in Europe or the US – not a single player from Liga MX where things stay much milder in the Winter.
With the Hex starting in February, shoved in the middle of the European calendar, the players abroad didn’t come into Camp until Monday – they only had two days together before the match at Estadio Olimpico.
And finally, they were without their most recognizable figure. Landon Donovan had taken the entire winter off from soccer, and made it clear he was out for at least the February match in San Pedro Sula.
Of course, the best often overcome these types of conspiring difficulties. On Wednesday, that was not the case. New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson popped home a ball just outside the six after a defensive lapse by the US, and the Catrachos opened play with a 2-1 victory.
Things looked up for the Americans just after the half-hour mark. Jermaine Jones played a looping through ball to Clint Dempsey, who volleyed the ball past Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares. That 1-0 lead was short-lived though, as left back Juan Carlos Garcia executed a wondrous overhead kick to level the score for Honduras.
The US backline looked shaky throughout the match, due to the fact that it was the first match where Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez manned the center of defense together. Gonzalez is certainly the future of the US backline, and maybe this introduction was a year late. Ah, another thing that conspired against the US – Gonzalez’ freak injury while in Germany (caused by his US backline mate Tim Chandler) likely postponed his ascendancy for a year.
That final goal from Bengtson with just over 10 minutes to play exposed the inexperience of the defensive pairing. A ball was played through to Houston Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek-Garcia, who beat both Cameron and Tim Howard to the ball. He was able to slip a pass towards the goal, and Gonzalez reacted too slowly to the situation. Bengtson streaked in to put it in the back of the net from a few feet out.
It will be easy to second-guess much of what Jurgen Klinsmann put out on the pitch today. As I listed above, there are also plenty of excuses why it might not have mattered. All we’re left with are the facts – the US just was not good enough in this match. They lacked the ability to dictate the play. When they did have opportunities to control the match, pressure in the final third snuffed things out, much like it did against Canada in the friendly a week ago.
It will be a long month until the next international weekend. The Americans will face Costa Rica at high altitude in Colorado, and then drop down to Mexico City to face El Tri. Maybe by that time Donovan will reconsider his position with the team. The team should have 3-4 days together to prepare for Costa Rica, and all of the players will be in season. And the weather should be much more temperate.
In other words, the circumstances should not conspire as much against the US. In other words, no more excuses.