Date: Tuesday, Sept. 5
Time: 5:30 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. CT, 2:30 PM CT, 9:30 PM UTC
Venue: Estadio Olimpico, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Television: beIN Sports, NBC Universo
Streaming: beIN Sports Connect
All-time record: 16-4-4, Last meeting, W 6-0, in World Cup Qualifying on March 24
The United States Men’s National Team travels to San Pedro Sula tonight for the biggest match of the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle against a Honduras side with the same number of points in the Hex. Because of Friday’s slip-up against Costa Rica, the three matches remaining all demand a result from head coach Bruce Arena. By most most metrics, the USA still has over a 50% chance of playing in Russia next summer, but there is a lot of work left to do, starting with a tricky visit to the Estadio Olimpico for what looks to be a sweltering afternoon.
The USA and Honduras both have eight points through seven matches, and Panama is just one point back with seven. Honduras has the unfortunate schedule of playing all of the top-three CONCACAF teams, USA, Costa Rica and Mexico, in that order in its last three matches, although it is home against USA and Mexico. The USA has a massive home clash against Panama and a road trip to Trinidad and Tobago after tonight’s match while Panama sandwiches its trip to the States with home fixtures against Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica.
The USA certainly controls its own destiny with matches against the two teams it must fend off, but it needs positive results to try and finish third. If the USA finishes fourth, it must play fifth place from Asia in a two-legged playoff for a World Cup spot, which would not only be a nerve-wracking affair, but also a very poor showing for a supposed CONCACAF power in the Hex.
The USA also has the advantage in goal differential, should it matter, with a +1, while Panama has a -1. Honduras has a -7, largely in part to the 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Americans in March.
What to expect from Honduras
With an important 2-1 away win at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, Jorge Luis Pinto’s side has revived real hope that it could qualify for its third straight World Cup. On the surface, it still remains a daunting task with fixtures against USA, Costa Rica and Mexico while the team’s goal differential sits at a lowly -7, but Costa Rica and Mexico could be less than 100% motivated if they have already locked up qualification.
At home, looking to build on a good result and avenge an embarrassing showing in March, Los Catrachos will come at the Americans and play a slightly more open style than the usual extremely conservative brand of football Honduras brings to any important match. Pinto will look to replicate former manager Luis Fernando Suarez’ result, when he engineered a 2-1 win over the USA at the Estadio Olimpico in the first match of the Hex for the 2014 World Cip.
MLS fans will be familiar with the FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa and the Houston Dynamo trio of Boniek Garcia, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. Quioto and Elis will play in advanced roles while Figueroa helps command the backline.
Pinto will be without Emilio Izaguirre, who was sent off Friday, and will likely use Johnny Palacios as a replacement in defense. Luis Lopez will likely start again in goal. The other player to watch is 24-year-old Anthony ‘Choco’ Lozano who just joined Barcelona B from Olimpia. Carlo Costly, while 35, could appear off the bench if needed.
Pinto will still employ the disciplined defensive shape and on a muggy afternoon, he will try to the slow down the game and nick a goal on the counterattack from one of his dynamic forwards. The longer the game remains tied, the more confidence his side will gain.
What to expect from the USA
Arena must rally his side from a disappointing result and a frustrating performance where the USA had its chances and was undone with a few defensive mistakes. He will be without striker Jozy Altidore due to yellow card accumulation.
Howard should start in goal again, but Arena could opt for Brad Guzan à la his starts on the road at the Azteca in recent years. Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream were poor in their first ever start as a center-back pairing and Matt Besler should get some playing time. It would be surprising if both Jorge Villafana and Graham Zusi played again, with Eric Lichaj and maybe even a run out from iron man DaMarcus Beasley as the potential replacements.
Michael Bradley will reprise his role as usual in the center of the park. Darlington Nagbe, for all his creative instincts, is less effective playing centrally for the national team and should play out wide. Philadelphia Union man Alejandro Bedoya is a strong candidate to start alongside Bradley while Christian Pulisic will play right wing or as a No. 10.
With no Altidore, Wood or Jordan Morris will play as a lone striker. Clint Dempsey could play behind them if Pulisic plays out wide, but if Arena wants to use Dempsey as a supersub, Christian Roldan or Paul Arriola could make a surprise start.
It will be hot and humid, the pitch will likely be overgrown, and the fans will be raucous. This is the type of CONCACAF test that reveals what Bruce Arena’s side is made of. The Americans are better than their hosts, but need to find a way to break down a committed opponent or score off a set piece, and to not make silly mistakes in defense. If Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Darlington Nagbe can create enough, the USA will get a result it needs. If not, an ugly scrap could produce a wildcard result.
What to expect
The USA needs at least a point, and three points would be incredible. With very real doubts about the USA’s chances for Russia, it doesn’t matter how the USA gets it done. The leaders in this squad must step up and the attacking players must finish their chances unlike Friday. Honduras will be dangerous on the counter, but the USA should have enough in the tank to get the job done.
Prediction: USA 2, Honduras 1