The U.S. Men’s National Team resumes World Cup Qualifying play at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula with an away match against Honduras on Wednesday(4pm EST, beinSPORT). With the annual January training camp completed on something of a down note, and with most of the roster flying in from overseas after playing at the weekend, it’s difficult to predict just what sort of team to expect. One thing is for sure: Honduras will be ready, and the U.S. can ill afford to start of the Hexagonal round with a loss.
Matt Besler, Brad Davis, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Eddie Johnson, Sean Johnson, and Graham Zusi are the only holdovers from the January training camp. Zusi and Johnson were givens, but Besler and Gonzalez are welcome, if unsurprising, inclusions. Of the Brads, Davis and Evans, Klinsmann said, “[T]hey are here because they had a very impressive three-and-a-half weeks in January in camp with us.” Union fans are of course disappointed that Jeff Parke did not receive another call-up, though having him in preseason training with the rest of the Union team is good. Kyle Beckerman will count himself unlucky not to be with the U.S. team, however, as his was the standout performance in the dour draw with Canada last week.
The full roster announcement can be found here, but there are few surprises. We do, however, have several questions to answer. Let’s start at the back.
Who partners Geoff Cameron in central defense?
Gonzalez and Besler looked good against Canada, though were hardly tested. Their inclusion, and Klinsmann’s comments about them both, bode well for the future, but will he throw them into the deep end of an away qualifier, especially as U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra is also with the team? I think it’s unlikely, and predict the center back pair will be Cameron and Bocanegra.
No Cherundolo = cap-tied Chandler?
Steve Cherundolo is out with a knee injury, but Timmy Chandler is in the team. Having this fall committed himself to play for the U.S. (his mother is German, and he has delayed declaring for either country), this is the first time Klinsmann could play Chandler in a game that would finally cap-tie him. While it’s possible Michael Parkhurst could start at right back in Chandler’s stead, I expect Chandler to get the call, and make things official.
Front six log-jam
Here’s where things get interesting. Assuming Klinsmann sticks with the 4-3-3 formation he has been wedded to since becoming U.S. coach, the included midfielders and forwards provide us with only a few givens. For one, Michael Bradley will start, obviously. Beside him, one of either Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, or Jermaine Jones is likely to get the call (my money’s on Williams). The other four places? Well, that’s harder to say. Clint Dempsey will certainly play, but whether it’s as a forward or as the third, most attacking midfielder is unknown. Leaving aside Dempsey’s positioning for a moment, that leaves four players with decent claims on starting berths for only three positions: Klinsmann favorites Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, and Graham Zusi, and arguably the most in-form player on the roster, Jozy Altidore. (Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan, and Brad Davis are all on the roster as well, but don’t figure to start.) Putting aside Altidore’s recent history with the national team, I believe his current club form is simply irresistible and he will get the nod, with Gomez to one side, and either Zusi or Johnson on the other, pushing Dempsey into midfield.
What can we expect from Honduras? The Honduran team is likely the second-best team, after Mexico, that the U.S. will face in the Hexagonal round. Honduras performed quite well in the last World Cup, and were one of the best teams this past summer in the Olympic tournament, defeating Spain and giving Brazil all it could handle in a 3–2 loss. On top of that, the game today will be played in the midday heat, and the Honduran government has given the entire country the afternoon off, so the U.S. can expect some serious Honduran support from the stands. And, like the U.S., if Honduras hopes to move forward out of the Hex, they need to win their home games, and that’s just what they will be trying to do. I don’t expect a packed defensive effort from Honduras—the Hondurans will take it to the U.S. to try and grab all three points.
My projected U.S. lineup is: Tim Howard—Fabian Johnson, Bocanegra, Cameron, Chandler—Williams, Bradley, Dempsey—Gomez, Altidore, Zusi.
As for the result? I’m predicting a score draw, 1–1. While I’d love to say the U.S. will win, burying the queasy butterflies the Canada game gave us all, I simply can’t. The U.S. players haven’t played together for months, and the Hondurans would present a challenge at a neutral site, not to mention the intense environs of the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula. Klinsmann talks a good game, saying, “We want to start the qualifying round on the right foot. We want to go to Honduras with confidence and determination to get … a win. That’s our goal.”
A win would be wonderful, but getting a point should be seen as a victory.