2014 World Cup Qualifying: United States in Real Danger After Loss to Honduras
The United States dropped the opening match of CONCACAF's hexagonal World Cup qualifying round to Honduras. It's only one match out of 10 that will be played by October, but make no mistake, the Americans are already in danger.
Sure, we can break out the excuse machine and blame the loss on the tough playing conditions, a lack of chemistry, the absence of Landon Donovan or simply starting the round with a tough road match. The fact remains the United States left Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano without a point.
From a mental standpoint, it's not the way any country wants to begin its final push toward Brazil in 2014, and it adds a lot more pressure moving forward. But the real story is in the numbers, as passed along by Paul Carr and Albert Larcada of ESPN.
According to ESPN's Soccer Power Index, the loss dropped the United States' qualifying chances from 61.6 percent to 52.7 percent. While the Americans were not favored to win the match by SPI, they were expected to pick up at least a draw in nearly half of simulations.
In other words, the United States' chances of qualifying are nearly the same as the flip of a coin at this point. For a country that has participated in every World Cup since 1990 and is, along with Mexico, viewed as a CONCACAF power, it's a surprising number.
By the end of Wednesday, the United States was all alone in last place. Draws in the other two matches meant every other country had at least one point from its first match of the round.
Furthermore, the way the Americans lost wasn't encouraging. Clint Dempsey scored with less than 10 minutes until halftime and they couldn't even carry the lead into the locker room. Juan Carlos Garcia scored a mere four minutes later.
Still, at the half they were in line to pick up a point on the road, which would have been an acceptable result. But the team that showed up in the second half certainly didn't look like one worthy of a trip to Brazil next year.
Quality scoring chances were few and far between. Numerous mistakes along the back line led to continued chances for the home-standing Catrachos. In the 79th minute, they finally capitalized thanks to Jerry Bengtson.
The Americans' lackluster play didn't end there. The final 10 minutes were a mess. They struggled mightily to gain possession, and the few opportunities they had left a lot to be desired. A few last gasp chances were easily thwarted by Honduras.
Their form must improve over the next nine matches or they won't qualify. The return of Donovan, who remains a driving force of the American attack, would provide a major boost. Nobody knows what to make of that situation, though.
Federation president Sunil Gulati said he expects Donovan back at "some point," according to Brian Straus of the Sporting News. Of course, some point could be next month Costa Rica or much later in the round when the U.S. could be in an even deeper hole.
Ultimately, the uncertainty surrounding Donovan's future means the players committed to playing must step up.
Jozy Altidore needs to start showing the form American fans have witnessed him in at the club level with AZ Alkmaar. He leads the team with 15 goals, good for second in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Michael Bradley must be one of the team's main stars, filling the versatile role Donovan has held for so long. He made a brutal free kick pass late in the loss to Honduras that took away a chance to score an equalizer. He has to bare down in those situations.
While the Americans will surely welcome the full-time arrival of Timmy Chandler, he needs to play a lot better than he did on Wednesday to hold down a starting spot. He was beat far too often on the outside.
He wasn't alone in making mistakes along the back line. Geoff Cameron was beat several times, including on the game-winning goal. Omar Gonzalez wasn't able to clear and Bengtson finished.
As you'd expect, that led to plenty of questions about the decision to leave longtime captain Carlos Bocanegra out of the lineup.
Although younger players do need to gain experience since players like Bocanegra, Donovan, Dempsey and Tim Howard won't be around forever, throwing them into the fire during the first match of hexagonal play on the road was a major risk.
How confident are you that the U.S. will qualify for the 2014 World Cup?
It obviously didn't pay off and now the United States is in the basement.
Yes, there's still plenty of reason to believe the Americans will rebound from the forgettable performance against Honduras and qualify for the World Cup. The talent level is there and the track record suggests they are still a good bet.
The turnaround starts with manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who must find his best 11. The time for experimentation is over. The margin for error is always small in this round and it got even smaller with the loss on Wednesday.
Hopefully that includes Donovan sooner rather than later. If not, whoever gets the call needs to rise to the occasion. Ten percent of the final qualifying round is over and the United States are on the outside looking in.
The Americans' hopes of heading to Brazil are alive and well. But the loss to Honduras showed it's far from a lock.
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