On Tuesday night, in Sandy, Utah, the United States men’s national team will take on Honduras, looking to close out its summer World Cup qualifying campaign with another win and another set of three valuable points.
Currently, the USMNT sits at the top of the CONCACAF qualifying hexagonal with 10 points from five games, with Honduras sitting in fourth place with seven points from five games.
The last time these two teams met, in February, Honduras won 2-1 in San Pedro Sula.
Here are the key matchups for Tuesday’s game.
This summer’s series of games for the U.S. has represented a national team renaissance for Jozy Altidore, who has scored in the last three games after a scoring drought that lasted 18 months.
Clint Dempsey, comparatively, has been on an impressive international goal-scoring streak for the U.S. over that same period, scoring 13 of the United States' 40 goals in the Jurgen Klinsmann era and seven times in World Cup qualifying so far.
On Tuesday night, Altidore and Dempsey will face a depleted Honduran defense with both of Honduras’ normal starting center-backs out of the game. Maynor Figueroa, who has played the last six years for Wigan Athletic, will miss the match due to injury, and Victor Bernardez of the San Jose Earthquakes will miss the match due to a yellow-card suspension.
Center-back Osman Chavez, who is normally on the bench for Honduras, is also out injured, leaving Los Catrachos seriously short-handed defensively.
If Altidore and Dempsey can’t take advantage of a Honduran third-choice back line, the U.S. doesn’t deserve to win the match.
The midfield battle will have a lot to do with who comes out on top on Tuesday, and at the top of the ticket in that battle will be the matchup between Roger Espinoza and Michael Bradley.
The big question for both teams, however, will be who partners their midfield dynamos.
For the U.S., Jermaine Jones will likely be back from injury to partner Bradley, but the standout play of Geoff Cameron, who played in the injured Jones’ place against Panama, will give U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann a tough decision.
For Honduras, normal starter and defensive-midfielder Luis Garrido will miss the match due to yellow-card accumulation.
In the first match between the U.S. and Honduras in February, Espinoza bossed the midfield the entire match and the U.S. was thoroughly dominated in possession.
If Jones returns to the lineup, as expected, Michael Bradley will likely be given the bulk of the defensive responsibilities against Espinoza. Bradley’s ability to mark Espinoza out of the game and limit his touches and effectiveness will be key to U.S. hopes of a win.
Who starts for either team on the wing right now is a complete mystery due to injury concerns and suspensions.
For the U.S., DaMarcus Beasley, who has cemented his place in the left-back position, will miss the game due to a yellow-card suspension. That may force Jurgen Klinsmann to move Fabian Johnson, who has played left midfield for the U.S. in the last three games, back to left-back.
If that is Klinsmann’s decision, Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi will likely start for the U.S. on the wings. If Klinsmann elects to give a start to Edgar Castillo at left-back, Fabian Johnson will likely keep his starting spot at left midfield and either Zusi or Eddie Johnson will start at right midfield.
For Honduras, Houston Dynamo star Boniek Garcia may miss the match due to injury. Garcia left last week’s qualifier against Jamaica with an injury after scoring the opening goal and is a doubt for Tuesday’s match. Garcia’s pace and skill on the ball troubled the U.S. in their February match, and it was the work of Garcia that created the game-winning goal for Honduras on that day in San Pedro Sula.
More good news for #USMNT: Boniek García left Honduras game in 29th min with injury. Status for 6/18 unclear
— Seth Vertelney (@svertgoalcom) June 12, 2013
Carlo Costly, who many U.S. fans may remember from his short stint with the Houston Dynamo, has 25 career goals for Honduras in international play.
Costly will almost certainly get the start up top, especially with fellow Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson leaving the camp earlier this week. Bengtson, who plays for the New England Revolution and scored the game-winning goal against the U.S. in February, apparently left the team out of frustration at not starting the match against Jamaica last week.
With Bengtson and his 13 international goals missing, Costly will be looked on to be Honduras’ main threat against U.S. center-backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Gonzalez, in particular, has looked shaky since being handed the starting role for the U.S. back in February, but has been improving. If Gonzalez and Besler can keep Costly in check and continue to improve on their newfound defensive partnership, the U.S. should be in good shape.
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