Date: Friday, Mar. 24
Time: 10:30 PM Eastern, 9:30 PM Central, 7:30 PM Pacific, 3:30 AM UTC
Venue: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
Television: FS1, UniMas, Univision Deportes
Streaming: Fox Sports Go, Univision Now, FuboTV
All-time record: 15-4-4 (Last meeting, 1-0 USA, Jun. 28, 2013)
The United States Men’s National Team resumes World Cup Qualifying tonight against Honduras at 10:30 p.m. ET in San Jose, Calif. in a nearly must-win match. After a nightmare start to the Hex in November with losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, the USSF fired Jurgen Klinsmann and hired Bruce Arena for his second stint in charge of the national team with the sole purpose of qualifying for the World Cup. The project starts tonight with a crucial matchup on home soil against a stout opponent. Arena already has work cut out for him, but will be set back even further with key absences in the shape of Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, DeAndre Yedlin, Bobby Wood, and likely Jordan Morris.
What to watch for Honduras
Honduras has three points in the Hex after losing to Panama but defeating Trinidad and Tobago. Manager Jorge Luis Pinto is extremely pragmatic, and notably guided Costa Rica to the World Cup Quarterfinal in 2014, where Los Ticos only lost in a penalty shootout to the Netherlands. His cautious approach to the proceedings should be evident tonight as the plan will likely to be to sit deep and counter.
Pinto will probably deploy a conservative 4-4-2 and try to frustrate the Americans with two banks of four in his own defensive end. A point away would be a positive result for the Hondurans and they will also try to capitalize on a vulnerable American team. Set pieces will be crucial opportunities to score, as will be counter-attacks through the left side against American right back Geoff Cameron, playing slightly out of position.
The key man for the visitors will be Andy Najar, who plays in Europe for RSC Anderlecht in Belgium, and could find himself on the left wing to lead the offense. MLS fans will be familiar with a few players in the squad, most notably Roger Espinoza from Sporting KC who is a rock in the center of the park, and Maynor Figeruoa from FC Dallas who will probably be a center back.
What to watch for the USA
The headlining dilemma coming into the match for Bruce Arena was who he would deploy at right back without a true one in the squad, but all signs are pointing to Geoff Cameron getting the nod. The defining question for the USMNT will be how strong they are mentally to get three points against a bunkered-in team. That translates into how they will score goals, and the pressure falls on a rather powerful trio of attackers in Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Christian Pulisic.
The lineup will be some slight variant of a 4-4-2, with Tim Howard in goal, after looking rather resurgent in his MLS minutes this season. John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez will take the center back positions, while Jorge Villafana probably will play left fullback with DaMarcus Beasley as the alternative. Geoff Cameron is no natural outside back and lacks real pace, but he has experience playing there for Stoke City in the Premier League and should be more than up to the task.
Michael Bradley will be the fulcrum in central midfield, and he could be joined either by LA Galaxy man Sebastian Lletget or Philadelphia Union star and USMNT mainstay Alejandro Bedoya. Darlington Nagbe should be on the left while focal point Christian Pulisic will play on the right. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore will form a two-man strike partnership, but if Dempsey’s health prevents him from starting, Pulisic could play as an attacking midfield while Bedoya takes up a familiar two-way role on the right.
In what could be a nervy contest for the Americans, they are going to have to will the ball into the goal somehow. Pulisic has been the darling of the Bundesliga with his dribbling prowess and numerous take-ons and he will need to make something happen. Whether Dempsey starts or not, he has scored his fair share of big goals and always seems to pop up when most needed. He could be the man to turn a half-chance in the box into three points. Altidore thrives with a second striker to play off of and he will be an active target man in the box, even if he is likely to be closely-marked all match.
Set pieces, as always, will be a proving point for the Americans, who blew their match to Mexico in November on questionable defending on a corner. Conversely, if the chances are few and far between, a 50/50 in the box on a long delivery could be the best chance for the USA to score.
If Pulisic is indeed on the right wing and plays adventurously as he should, he leaves Cameron without any protection against a likely overload from the Hondurans. That is a dangerous area for the Americans as is the left side, with both DaMarcus Beasley and Jorge Villafana as suboptimal international fullbacks.
If the USA is tied or trailing in the second half, Arena has to nail his substitutions and go for broke. Sacha Kljestan is a valuable creator off the bench and Chris Wondolowski could always pop up in an interesting poaching situation. Kellyn Acosta, who has been incredible so far for FC Dallas this season, is another useful wildcard.
What to expect
The USA will dominate possession and chances and be buoyed at home in front of a loud San Jose crowd. Three points will not come easy, however, and the goal might be off a penalty kick or a deflection. Maybe the USA will respond to the challenge, kick into another gear offensively, and win by more than one, but that seems rather unlikely for an Arena team. It’s hard to see Honduras scoring in this match, but at this point, nothing is off the table in a wacky cycle for the USA.
Prediction: 1-0 USA. The USA scrap their way to a much needed result off of a Clint Dempsey late goal. It’s about finding a way.