This was always going to be a tough game for the U.S.
A draw would’ve been a solid and perfectly acceptable result.
So it wasn’t the loss, necessarily, that will irk the U.S. fan, but the way that loss came about:
• With three defensive-minded midfielders in the lineup, and no true wingers.
• With very little pressure on the ball, despite those three ball hawks in midfield.
• After taking a 1-0 lead.
• Following an odd burst of substitutions around the 60th minute, which included putting Sacha Kljestan out wide on the left instead of in the middle where he’s more suited to succeed.
• And finally, and most surprisingly, after completely fading down the stretch, despite Coach Klinsi’s incessant harping on fitness and doing more than the other guy in training.
Anyway, on to the highlights:
Mr. Juan Carlos Garcia, author of that astounding bicycle-kick equalizer, is 24 years old and plays for Olimpia in the Honduran top flight. Don’t be surprised if he, like several of his countrymen (Roger Espinoza and Maynor Figueroa at Wigan; Emilio Izaguirre at Celtic), makes a jump to a bigger league some time soon.
Honduras is a quality team, full of skillful, athletic, and increasingly accomplished players. The stadium in San Pedro Sula is a cauldron, and the field, on Wednesday at least, was a cow pasture. The long grass slowed the game down and made the U.S.’s counter-attacking tactics more difficult to pull off.
But all that said, this was not a new-model U.S. team, as Klinsmann has been tasked with creating. This was the same old stuff—except maybe worse.
There’s no question that this team misses Landon Donovan. They could also use a 2010-era Stuart Holden, or, while we’re at it, a 2009 version of Charlie Davies.
But they don’t know when LD is coming back (or what his mindset will be), they can’t put too much stock in Holden, who’s been hurt for close to two years, and as for Davies, well, it’s looking like he may never regain his admittedly lofty pre-car-crash form.
So the players we saw on Wednesday are essentially the hand Klinsmann has been dealt. If he can get the best out of them, they should qualify. But so far, in 18 months on the job, he has yet to coax anything like their best, and his tactics seem ill-suited to doing so.
*We’re not really at that point yet, but anything less than three points against Costa Rica on March 22, and that point will be in sight.