The U.S. men’s soccer team began its busiest stretch of World Cup qualifying with victories over Jamaica on June 7 and Panama on June 11. With another win over Honduras on Tuesday night in the Salt Lake City suburbs, the Americans would put themselves in commanding position to secure passage to Brazil next summer.
“The vibe is good and we’re confident,” captain Clint Dempsey said. “But it’s about having that consistency moving forward that we can keep getting results and keep putting the game on our terms and grinding our opponents down.”
The top three CONCACAF teams will earn automatic berths, with a fourth heading to a playoff in the fall against the Oceania champion. Jamaica has fallen out of contention, leaving five teams vying for the top three regional slots. A victory would also push the United States (3-1-1) five points ahead of archrival Mexico (1-0-5), which is idle Tuesday and has already played six matches.
Remaining first in the group would also ease pressure heading into the September qualifiers at Costa Rica and home against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. Last summer, in the semifinal round of qualifying, the Americans conceded a late goal and settled for a draw at Guatemala, setting up a tenser situation before the latter portion of the schedule.
“I reminded the team I don’t want to have that feeling in my stomach going into the summer break,” Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “You want to continue to make this group grow and become more consistent.”
Striker Jozy Altidore has become a model of consistency this month: After going scoreless in 17 of 18 U.S. appearances, he has recorded goals in three consecutive matches, beginning against Germany in a June 2 friendly at RFK Stadium. Each of his goals during this stretch has come in the first half and provided the lead en route to victories.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the 2-1 triumph at Jamaica. He is a Klinsmann favorite, but in Jones’s absence against Panama, Geoff Cameron played well partnering with Michael Bradley. Klinsmann declined to reveal his lineup for Tuesday’s match. He has also weighed options at left back to replace DaMarcus Beasley, who will serve a yellow-card suspension. Edgar Castillo is the leading candidate.
Nine U.S. players are carrying a yellow card, and with another Tuesday they would miss the Sept. 6 match at Costa Rica. Kyle Beckerman, a Real Salt Lake midfielder from Crofton, was a late addition to the roster.
Rio Tinto Stadium is hosting a World Cup qualifier for the second time. In 2009, the United States defeated El Salvador, 2-1, on goals by Dempsey and Altidore. A sellout crowd of more than 20,000 is expected Tuesday. Honduras, whose roster includes former D.C. United star Andy Najar, has been weakened by injuries, yellow-card suspensions and the departure of forward Jerry Bengtson, who quarreled with Coach Luis Suarez.
Bengtson, who plays for the New England Revolution, scored a late go-ahead goal in a 2-1 victory over the United States in February in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. But the United States is 22-0-2 in its past 24 home qualifiers, the last loss coming to Honduras in 2001 in Washington.