The United States' quest to capture a 2018 World Cup berth is still alive—barely.
Although they didn't flash much cohesion Tuesday evening at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, the Americans secured a crucial 1-1 qualifying draw against Honduras thanks to an 86th-minute equalizer from substitute Bobby Wood.
U.S. Soccer @ussoccer
Mr. @BobbyS_Wood to the rescue! 🇺🇸 @KellynAcosta with the shot and @JmoSmooth13 the assist. https://t.co/QXMc7GG0hB2017-9-5 23:38:57
By virtue of the tie, which came on the heels of a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on Friday, the U.S. was able to hold steady in third place in the CONCACAF hexagonal qualifying table with nine points.
Honduras, which fielded the more dynamic side for the majority of Tuesday's proceedings, remained in fourth place with nine points due to the United States' superior goal differential.
The top three finishers will automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the fourth-place team will move on to seek a berth via the inter-confederation playoffs.
Given how lethargic the U.S. looked for the bulk of Tuesday's showdown, it will be thrilled with the result.
Legendary American striker Landon Donovan made that much clear:
Landon Donovan @landondonovan
Went through 4 WCQ cycles and none of them were easy or pretty. All that matters is getting to the WC. Huge point today 👏🏻⚽️🇺🇸 #USAvCRC2017-9-5 23:35:09
"The point is a point on the road and it takes two away from a team we're competing with for the World Cup," manager Bruce Arena said, according to the team's official Twitter account. "It's a huge point."
But as CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora and ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell opined, it was hardly an encouraging effort:
Jason La Canfora @JasonLaCanfora
At some point i'd hope this team has a discernible pulse, a cohesion, a semblance of tactical awareness and game plan. Not good #blameklinsi2017-9-5 23:34:04
Bill Barnwell @billbarnwell
It feels like there are maybe three players who should be guaranteed a spot in the WC 11, good thing it’s still years aw-oh2017-9-5 23:34:09
Arena's defense proved flimsy in the early going, and the porous back line was exposed in the 28th minute when Romell Quioto sprinted past Omar Gonzalez and banged in a shot off the far post to hand Honduras a 1-0 lead.
At that point, ESPN Stats & Info's Paul Carr offered eye-opening context regarding the defense's performance over the past two matches:
Paul Carr @PCarrESPN
#USMNT has conceded first in consecutive games, after scoring first in its nine previous games. #HONvUSA2017-9-5 22:10:02
The U.S. offense wasn't much better in the first half.
While there were glimpses of encouraging buildup, namely between Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris, an absence of fluidity and quality interplay in the midfield moving toward the attacking third reigned supreme.
Halftime offered the Americans a chance to regroup. However, a wholesale shift in demeanor, tempo and focus proved elusive.
Carr highlighted the United States' deficiencies as time started to slip away:
Paul Carr @PCarrESPN
Thought #USMNT's lack of central-attacking touches at Gold Cup was b/c no Pulisic. Tonight's touches through 67 min. (attacking L to R) https://t.co/8Zu9JMlZ3I2017-9-5 23:08:03
Chances generally proved few and far between down the stretch, but Arena's decision to bring Wood on and move to a formation featuring three at the back paid dividends.
Pushing forward aggressively, Pulisic was able to win a free kick, which opened the door for Kellyn Acosta to fire a shot on goal.
Honduras goalkeeper Luis Lopez stood tall at first, but Morris collected the ball and headed to Wood—who tapped in what may be the goal that saved the Americans' qualifying chances.
Now on slightly firmer footing, the U.S. will aim to find more dynamic form.
And with matches remaining against Panama (Oct. 6) and Trinidad and Tobago (Oct. 10), it remains more likely than not there will be an American delegation in Russia, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
With the 1-1 draw in Honduras, #USMNT's SPI chances to qualify for the World Cup are now at 74%. https://t.co/iaBeqEt3fI2017-9-5 23:37:27
Panama, meanwhile, will attempt to briefly leapfrog both the United States and Honduras with a win over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night.
As for Honduras, Jorge Luis Pinto Afanador's side will be facing an uphill battle since its final two qualifying showdowns will be against Costa Rica and Mexico.