The Honduran national soccer team is preparing for the World Cup by spending a few weeks in the United States, setting up camp in Miami and playing three tuneups over 10 days. But with a massive diaspora backing their cause and a third of their squad with MLS portfolios, the Hondurans are feeling right at home before embarking on their summer samba in Brazil.
On Thursday night they rode a wave of energy and emotion provided by a partisan crowd of 20,723 at RFK Stadium but lost their way — and defensive composure — in the second half in falling to Turkey, 2-0, in an international friendly.
Mevlut Erdinc scored in the 70th minute and Caner Erkin added a goal in the 83rd for the Turks, who will test the United States on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Honduras’s appearance marked the return of midfielder Andy Najar, 21, who attended Alexandria’s Edison High School and served three seasons with D.C. United before moving to Belgium last year. Fresh off a starting role in Anderlecht’s championship campaign, Najar started on the right wing and logged 67 minutes.
“It’s exciting because this is my home and where I played my first professional year,” he said. “It’s exciting to play in front of my friends.”
Honduras will face Israel on Sunday in Houston and England on June 7 in Miami in the build-up to World Cup first-round matches against France, Ecuador and Switzerland.
While France’s Les Bleus is the clear favorite and Ecuador and Switzerland are pegged to chase the group’s second berth in the knockout stage, Honduras has been emboldened by two international experiences: qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa four years ago after a 28-year drought and advancing to the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals, where it rattled Brazil before succumbing, 3-2.
The Catrachos have also placed players in European leagues, a notable achievement for a small country: Four from the World Cup squad are in England, two in Scotland and Najar with Belgium’s most decorated club.
After an uneventful 30 minutes, the match crackled to life. Najar made a 50-yard run, gathering speed as he bore down on the penalty area, before the threat was extinguished. Roger Espinoza, who played at Ohio State and Sporting Kansas City before moving to England, missed the far post by a whisker.
Noel Valladares, Honduras’ 37-year-old goalkeeper in a battle for the starting job in Brazil, blocked Tarik Camdal’s rasping drive and Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution) sent a side volley wide of the near post.
Turkey, which has failed to qualify for the World Cup since finishing third in 2002, set the terms in the second half.
Valladares came to the rescue in the 56th minute with a tremendous left-footed save on Erdinc alone in the box after a Honduran giveaway.
Erdinc, who plays for Saint-Etienne in France, did not waste his next opportunity. Ishak Dogan beat right back Brayan Beckeles and crossed to Erdinc for a 10-yard one-timer.
Later, attracting the attention of three defenders at the top of the penalty area, Erdinc slipped a pass into the path of Erkin for a powerful 17-yard one-timer to the near corner.
“They brought it to a different level,” Espinoza said. “We made some mistakes. It happens and we learn from that — better to happen now than later.”