Soccer Outsider: USA-Honduras match diary, player ratings

June 20, 2013

Imagine being left home from next year’s World Cup in Brazil. 32 nations head off to the land of beaches and plastic surgery for the samba/soccer carnival of the century while the Americans are stuck at home like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window.” We’d see video packages full of beaches, rain forests, back-heel passes, goal celebrations, rare steaks, painted fans, Messi, jiggling bedazzled body parts and that giant statue of Jim Caviezel. “Oh, that’s okay,” we’d rationalize, “I’ve got Columbus-San Jose on Direct Kick, plus I hear bus fares are really high in Brazil anyway.” Pathetic.

The U.S. men’s soccer team can avoid that sad fate by qualifying, and it could take another big step toward qualifying by beating Honduras on Tuesday night. A win wouldn’t send the United States to Brazil, but it would put them close enough to smell the feijoada. Honduras is between the United States and Brazil, literally always and figuratively tonight.

Coach Juergen Klinsmann’s lineup: Howard | Fabian, Besler, Gonzalez, Evans | Eddie, Jones, Bradley, Zusi | Dempsey, Altidore. I agree with this lineup. Some people weren’t sure Jones should play after suffering a concussion against Jamaica even though he was cleared by team doctors. In my opinion, he should play. Cleared means cleared; if there’s any reasonable risk, then he shouldn’t be cleared.

Here’s kickoff from Utah, renowned for its natural beauty including majestic mountains, good — no, great — salt lake and actual grass that grows in the actual ground (I’m looking at you, Seattle).

2’ - Andy Najar is playing for Honduras. I’m watching him like that farmer watched his clydesdale in that Budweiser ad. Make me proud, son. (sniffle) Make me proud.

6’ - Team USA starts on the front foot, Fabian (going with first names only for him and Eddie) starts a move and wins a corner. Dempsey sends the ensuing header just wide. We always call an early chance a “signal of intent,” but really Honduras should have just assumed that the Americans intend to score a goal.

9’ - Yellow card already for Jones. Late in his career, Alfred Hitchcock would put his cameo at the beginning of the movie so that fans wouldn’t spend the whole movie waiting for it. Jones seems to be doing the same thing with his yellow cards. The free kick goes into the wall.

17’ - Dempsey flashes a header wide a minute after Eddie forced a save with a low shot! Honduras is sitting deep; the United States will likely have to convert a half chance to score.

22’ - This is a quiet crowd, much quieter than Seattle. I guess the 7-Up and V-8 they have in Utah don’t quite rile up a crowd like coffee and Redhook.

28’ - Najar beats Gonzalez but runs out of bounds. That’s what I want from Najar: good play but not good enough to score.

29’ - Andy is looking buff. That Belgian all-waffle-and-chocolate diet really gets results.

36’ - Kyle Beckerman has been added to the U.S. roster, but his hair was already sort-of on the roster in the form of Graham Zusi. That’s a load-bearing headband he’s wearing.

39’ - Eddie Johnson usually just plays the ball to whomever he happens to be facing when he receives it. Including players on the other team.

44’ - A horrible giveaway from Besler leads to a shot by Najar, saved well by Howard. Subtle good play by Gonzalez there: He stayed with the man in the middle and forced Najar to shoot from an angle.

Halftime: 0-0. The Americans are lethargic and so are the crowd. Who’s going to break the cycle?

46’ - There are a variety of German accents, and I would describe Klinsmann’s as “that therapist duck from “Duck Tales.”

51’ - Jozy is not happy with this referee. It’s been slowly building throughout the game; Jozy looks about ready to key the ref’s car after the match.

62’ - Scramble in front of the goal – hand ball! Should have been a hand ball on Palacios. Some would call that a harsh penalty because Palacios didn’t have time to react. I would point out that his hand was away from his body and also that life is harsh. Deal with it — tough toenails. Thanks, referee: way to make me sound like my dad.

65’ - If this were a chess tournament, I would still expect a little more energy from the crowd.

69’ - Zusi crosses for Dempsey, whose header is saved, and Bradley can’t convert the rebound! I’m starting to worry this game will be like Straight-Edge Prom: we’ll do everything but score.

72’ – GOAL USA! There’s the breakthrough! The move goes Bradley > Dempsey > Zusi > Fabian > Jozy! Jozy scores for the fourth time in four games. It’s a huge moment for the Americans and also for sportswriters, who now have a handle for their match recaps.

76’ - Najar is Honduras’s best player. And just to make you feel old: he was born in 1993.

77’ - Jozy cuts inside and puts a good shot on frame. Let me get a transfer rumor going: I hear Everton are expressing interest in Jozy (I’m just a blogger so I don’t have to have sources or verification or any connection to reality).

82’ - The crowd seems to be observing 82 minutes of silence in deference to Mitt Romney’s defeat.

86’ - Ian Darke: “US are about home and hosed.” I agree, assuming that “home and hosed” is a good thing.

Full time: 1-0 USA! Start waxing: Brazil is looking likely.

Player ratings:

Howard: 6. He only had two things to do (three if you count rockin’ some yellow gloves), but he did them.

Fabian: 6.5. I like him as a left back. And I like Landon Donovan as a left mid. Or even Chris Pontius if he can recapture his 2012 form.

Besler: 7. Suddenly, Matt Besler is a no-brainer at center back. Solid and composed (except for that one time).

Gonzalez: 5.5. I don’t think Gonzalez has played himself out of a spot, but I don’t think he’s locked it up, either. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of his year goes.

Evans: 5.5. The first job of a defender is to avoid mistakes, and he’s done that.

Eddie: 5. I find him a little one-dimensional. I think a good defense would shut him down without much trouble.

Jones: 6. Say this about Jones: He knows how to play with a yellow card. He kind of has to, since he usually draws one before the anthems are finished.

Bradley: 6.5. Midfield general as usual. When he gets forward, good things happen. If Holden gets back to form, I’d love to see them together in the midfield; their styles compliment each other.

Zusi: 7. His crosses provided the lion’s share of our offense. I think he’s more than just this cycle’s Steady Steve Ralston.

Dempsey: 5. Looked a bit like he’d already started his vacation, but he had a hockey assist on the goal.

Altidore: 6.5. He was isolated for most of the night, but converted the one chance he got. He also played some scrappy defense, which would get him minutes for life if he played for Ben Olsen.

Cameron: 6.5. I thought he was better than Jones. It’s a shame that Stoke employs 20 central midfielders, including the one playing opposite Cameron tonight.

Davis: 6. Provided some good energy late; did a good job of keeping the ball in Honduras’s half.

Castillo: No rating.

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Steven Goff | June 19, 2013