U.S. Soccer Team Beats Honduras, 3-2, to Qualify for 2010 World Cup

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 11, 2009

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras Oct. 10 -- The United States is going to the World Cup for the sixth consecutive time because Conor Casey, a brutish striker with a shaved head and rebuilt knees who had never scored for the national team, struck for two goals during a 3-2 victory over Honduras on Saturday night.

The Americans are going to South Africa next summer because all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan converted an exceptional free kick, and Honduras veteran Carlos Pavon missed a penalty kick and a quality header in the closing minutes. They secured the berth with one match to spare ¿ Wednesday at RFK Stadium against Costa Rica ¿ with a stirring second half that equaled the number of goals that Honduras had conceded in its previous eight home qualifiers at Olympic Metropolitan Stadium.

Before an audience of 45,000 that had hoped to see the beloved Catrachos move to the brink of their first World Cup berth in 28 years, the United States concluded a 16-month qualifying odyssey by sealing one of the three automatic berths from CONCACAF, the region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean.

"We are very proud," Coach Bob Bradley said. "We understand the responsibility we have every time we step on the field for our fans, for our country."

Honduras (4-4-1, 13 points), which has lost to the United States four times in two competitions this year, will need to win its finale at El Salvador on Wednesday and hope the U.S. team ties or defeats Costa Rica (5-4, 15). Mexico (6-3, 18) sealed a berth earlier Saturday.

A tie or loss by the first-place Americans (6-2-1, 19 points) here would've required a tie or victory Wednesday to clinch a berth.

"You don't want to go into the last game leaving anything to chance," said Donovan, who qualified for his third World Cup. "As we see around the world, anything can happen in one soccer game. It was nice to get it done."

The U.S. triumph ended a colorful and emotional day. When the blazing sun rose over the Sula Valley in northwest Honduras, this business hub of 1 million residents was buzzing with activity. Vendors wandered the busy Avenida Circunvalacion, hawking horns, hats and flags of all sizes ¿ everything in Honduran blue.

Cars tooted their horns as they passed the U.S. team's hotel, which was fortified by heavily armed security and emergency vehicles. For the most part, though, because this day was about the Catrachos and the endless possibilities for a nation bruised by an ongoing political crisis, Honduran fans didn't bother to pester the bunkered Americans.

An afternoon rainstorm provided brief relief from the steamy conditions but didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Honduran fans, who began arriving at the stadium eight hours before kickoff and filled more than three-quarters of the venue by late afternoon.

Unlike so many Central American trips over the years, the Americans encountered few, if any, rude gestures. Honduran supporters seemed so excited to be this close to a World Cup berth and so happy to be able to forget about politics for a few hours, the opponent ¿ even a regional bully -- seemed secondary. It could've been Barbados, for all they cared.

Perhaps the closest thing to anti-Americanism was a jovial fan wearing a Saddam Hussein mask. The crowd ¿ which filled each seat as well as every step in the aisles -- was quiet during the U.S. national anthem, a sharp contrast to the rude reaction in Mexico City in August.

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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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