The United States men’s national team defeated Honduras 1-0 on Tuesday night to keep itself atop of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal.
The win gives the U.S. 13 points from its first six games and puts the team in pole position to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Here are five things we learned from the match.
On Tuesday, Matt Besler put in his best performance yet in a USMNT shirt, bailing the U.S. out time and time again with last-ditch tackles and clearances and covering very well for his fellow defenders along the back line.
Besler did have one bad moment right before halftime when his poor giveaway resulted in a dangerous counterattack, but other than that, he was terrific. On repeated occasions, Besler’s tackling and clearances were the only thing that stood in between Tim Howard and the Honduran attack.
Over the past 12 months, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has tried out five other center-backs in the lineup besides Besler, including Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra. And, in only five starts, Besler has proven himself the most capable, and least error-prone, of all of them.
Restored to the starting lineup after missing the Panama game with a concussion, Jermaine Jones struggled all night to get into a good rhythm.
Twice in the first 10 minutes, Jones committed fouls in dangerous areas and picked up a yellow card with the second one.
Although Jones did have a few nice attacking combinations, he also gave possession away a number of times in bad places, resulting in Honduran counterattacks. The U.S. struggled all night to find the attacking flow that was so evident against Panama last week when Jones was out of the lineup.
During his 18-month goalless streak for the U.S., many U.S. fans were quick to criticize Jozy Altidore and attack his work rate on the pitch.
Now, after a 31-goal season with AZ Alkmaar, Altidore is starting to once again show his international quality with the USMNT.
Over the past four games, Altidore has scored the opening goal for the U.S., and two of those goals (Panama and Honduras) were the game-winners.
After missing the match against Panama due to a yellow-card suspension, Graham Zusi found his way back into the starting XI for the U.S.
After providing beautiful assists to Jozy Altidore against Germany and Jamaica earlier this month and demonstrating his excellent defensive work rate against Mexico in March, Zusi again put in a memorable performance on Tuesday night.
Zusi provided plenty of good service and showed an impressive array of attacking skills against Honduras.
On another night, Zusi could have easily had three assists. His free-kick service to Brad Evans in the 56th minute was unfortunately headed straight at the Honduran keeper, as was another beautiful service by Zusi to Clint Dempsey in the 70th minute.
It was also Zusi’s work on the dribble in the 63rd minute that created the scramble that should have resulted in a penalty for the U.S.—as Clint Dempsey’s subsequent header was obviously handled by a Honduran defender.
Honduras was missing many of its top players for the game on Tuesday night, including first-choice center-backs Victor Bernardez and Maynor Figueroa, backup center-back Osman Chavez and exiled forward Jerry Bengtson. Boniek Garcia, who is a top-flight CONCACAF winger, was also only able to play as a second-half substitute because of a hamstring issue.
Still, Honduras played very well, particularly Andy Najar and Roger Espinoza.
Both players are familiar to Major League Soccer fans, as Najar played for D.C. United before moving abroad to Anderlecht, and Espinoza was a star for Sporting Kansas City before moving to England and Wigan Athletic this past fall.
Both Najar and Espinoza looked dangerous all night, with Najar creating Honduras’ best chance last in the first half and Espinoza’s quickness and skill on the ball presenting the U.S. defense with problems all game.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran
Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline