They surely would have been satisfied with a tie at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano on Wednesday, one point closer to a Brazilian adventure next year. Instead, weaknesses were exposed and crucial errors were made, resulting in a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the first of 10 final-round qualifiers.
It’s too early to declare must-wins, but with a trip to Mexico looming, the Americans can’t afford to drop points against Costa Rica on March 22 at DSG Park outside of Denver.
They began well Wednesday as Clint Dempsey scored in the 36th minute, but Honduras soon answered with a goal of magnificent proportion — a bicycle kick by Juan Carlos Garcia — and then overtook the wilting Americans on Jerry Bengtson’s goal in the 79th.
“It’s really a missed opportunity to take a point on the road,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You have to take your bumps and lumps and learn from it.”
Coach Juergen Klinsmann will take his lumps for starting a young backline and implementing ponderous tactics that failed to maintain possession and didn’t make use of the flanks.
Aside from Dempsey’s goal, his 31st in 92 U.S. appearances, the Americans did not create many genuine opportunities and allowed the Hondurans to dictate terms most of the searing afternoon.
“We didn’t hold the ball well enough, long enough, to pass it around, to make the opponent chase the game,” said Klinsmann, whose team stumbled through much of the previous round as well. “It became the opposite: We had to run after them.”
Despite their ineffectiveness, the Americans were poised to escape with a draw. But in the late stage, a series of defensive breakdowns on one sequence led to the tiebreaking goal.
Maynor Figueroa targeted Oscar Boniek with a through ball. Boniek, one of four Honduran starters employed by MLS clubs, pierced the space between left back Fabian Johnson and center back Geoff Cameron. Johnson backed off. Cameron didn’t close him down or make a play on the ball. Howard arrived late.
Boniek (Houston Dynamo) touched the ball into Bengtson’s path. Omar Gonzalez, the other center back, was slow to react. Bengston (New England Revolution) arrived first and scored into the open net.
Gonzalez, a former University of Maryland star with the Los Angeles Galaxy, was awarded the start after a strong MLS campaign and good form against Canada last week. He took the place of Carlos Bocanegra, a longtime captain who anchored the 2010 World Cup squad.
Klinsmann didn’t blame the backline for the loss, pinning it more on the midfield’s shortcomings.
But Honduras’s first goal was also troubling. Although Garcia’s finish was spectacular — “the goal of the century here in Honduras,” Klinsmann said — the Americans made one mistake after another in the build-up.