U.S. Rallies for 2-1 World Cup Qualifier Win Over Honduras

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 7, 2009

CHICAGO, June 6 -- Just five minutes had passed, and the U.S. men's national soccer team faced another early deficit against a Central American opponent in front of another rapturous crowd. Only this time, the setting was not a delirious stadium far from home, but Soldier Field, where on Saturday night Honduras enjoyed the majority of the support for a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

Unlike three days earlier, however, when the Americans fell behind shortly after kickoff in Costa Rica and never recovered, they responded with Landon Donovan's equalizer just before halftime and then claimed a 2-1 victory on Carlos Bocanegra's diving header midway through the second half in front of 55,647 -- the second-largest audience for a home qualifier in U.S. history.

"If we don't respond and win this game," Donovan said, "we were going to be in a bad position."

With their first comeback victory in a World Cup qualifier in 24 years, the Americans (3-1-1) kept pace with first-place Costa Rica (4-1) in the six-team group that offers three automatic berths in next year's tournament in South Africa. Halfway through the 10-game schedule, the U.S. team will take a break from qualifying by playing in the Confederations Cup this month against the likes of Brazil and Italy. They'll resume the World Cup bid in August with a road match against Mexico, the group's co-favorite that has lost three of four after falling in El Salvador on Saturday.

"We have had a good start. There is work to be done -- we know that," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said. "But World Cup qualifying is not about just one game; it's about the 10 games and understanding there are going to be tough moments along the way. It's not normal to have a smooth, easy ride through World Cup qualifying and your ability to deal with some of that and grow as a team is very important."

The Americans dealt with a lot of adversity this week. On Wednesday, they conceded a second-minute goal and suffered a 3-1 loss against a Costa Rican club that was in firm control all evening. Here, Carlos Costly scored for Honduras (1-2-1) in the fifth minute.

"It was a little bit of, 'Here we go again,' " Bocanegra said. "But it was a good response from the team."

The Americans steadily got better, drew even in the 43rd minute, and then went ahead in the 68th.

Honduras supporters began arriving more than four hours before kickoff, creating a stir in the parking lots and on the lakeside roads and paths near the stadium. Blue-and-white flags hung from cars with out-of-state license plates, creating a slow procession along Lake Shore Drive.

By the time the match started, the breakdown of fan allegiances tightened -- 60 percent Honduran seemed to be a fair estimate -- and all seats were occupied except for the back portions of the upper deck.

The Hondurans seized the lead after Clint Dempsey's giveaway in midfield. Wilson Palacios took advantage of space and set up Costly, who smashed a 25-yard shot just beyond goalkeeper Tim Howard's reach and into the lower left corner.

The goal marked the third time in the past four qualifiers that the Americans confronted a deficit in the first 15 minutes.

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