Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Despite going up 1-0 through Clint Dempsey, the USMNT lost 2-1 in San Pedro Sula, starting the final round of World Cup Qualifying on precisely the wrong foot.
In a word, that sucked. The U.S. Men's National Team dropped the first game of the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, losing 2-1 to Honduras. This despite going up 1-0 late in the first half through Clint Dempsey. Even when ahead 0-1, the Americans were generally outplayed over the entire 90 minutes, and the Hondurans deservedly went ahead on Jerry Bengston's 78th minute game-winner after a miscommunication between Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard allowed Oscar Boniek Garcia to square for Bengston, who ran past a ball-watching Omar Gonzalez to slot the winner home into an open net.
The USMNT went ahead 0-1 in the 35th minute through a right-footed lobbed volley by Clint Dempsey. Jozy Altidore held play up at the top of the 18-yard box and dropped the ball back to Jermaine Jones; the Schalke 04 midfielder scooped a lob over the defense to the onrushing Dempsey, who put the ball into the top left corner, leaving 'keeper Noel Vallardes no chance to save. It took only four minutes for los Catrachos to equalize. Defender Victor Bernardez tracked down an overhit corner kick, and Jermaine Jones left his mark to focus on covering the central zone. Before U.S. left back Fabian Johnson could close down, though, Bernardez unleashed a cross which eventually sat up for Honduran left back Juan Carlos Garcia, who hit a vicious bike that left Tim Howard looking like he just watched a sick YouTube highlight - probably because this goal is going to be a sick YouTube highlight sooner than later.
It all fell apart in the 78th minute, though. A simple through ball caught Geoff Cameron flat footed, and he passed on his chance to clear the ball, opting to let Tim Howard claim it. Houston Dynamo winger Oscar Boniek Garcia beat him to it, though, touching the ball into the center of the box. The LA Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez had slowed up to watch Howard claim the ball and so was beaten to the ball by New England Revolution striker Jerry Bengston, who put home what would prove to be the winner.
We have to face facts here: the USMNT was totally outplayed. Honduras bossed possession through the majority of the match and created more and generally better chances all day. Jurgen Klinsmann's plan to use three primarily defensive midfielders in the middle of the park failed to create any sustained possession for the U.S. Some of this was on the players' failure to handle the high pressure applied by the Hondurans, but the entire team looked lethargic from the opening whistle.
Klinsmann's substitutions did no favors to the Americans, either. He used all three subs within a 10-minute span midway through the second half, all when the game was tied at one goal apiece. First was Maurice Edu coming on for Danny Williams in the 57th minute - we'll ignore the starting of Williams who may have played fewer minutes for his club team in the last few months than I have. That's not too bad, as Mo can step into the attack with some confidence. Next up, a whole minute later, was a more perplexing sub, taking off Eddie Johnson, the one speed man on the field for the Stars & Stripes, for Sacha Kljestan. Now, I'm a fan of Kljestan's game, but he's not a winger and he's not a speed option. Last up was Graham Zusi entering for Jermaine Jones in the 66th minute.
Using all three substitutions with 25 minutes to go - unless forced by injury or cards or some other exigent circumstances - is usually a mistake by any manager. Making like-for-like substitutions that tweak the tactical arrangement of the team is forgivable, but I'm really at a loss for what Klinsy was trying to do with the Kljestan and Zusi substitutions.
Hopefully the U.S. comes out stronger against Costa Rica next month in Colorado and shortly after at Estadio Azteca. Otherwise, we could be looking at a big mountain to climb come the summer and the fall. What we know immediately after today, though: this wasn't good enough.