By Charles Boehm - MIAMI, FL (Feb 5, 2012) US Soccer Players - The United States National Team’s road to Brazil 2014 resumes under a hot Honduran sun at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday afternoon (4pm ET – beIN Sport). The oddly scheduled game presents the USA with a range of demanding circumstances as they try to open the Hexagonal round of CONCACAD World Cup Qualifying with an away win.
“You get to this round and everything gets cranked up a few notches. The quality of the opponents gets better, the spotlight comes on brighter, the margin of error is that much smaller,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said after his team’s Monday morning training session at Florida International University. The team left for San Pedro Sula a few hours later.
This match is the first of three away games out of the USA’s opening four Hex contests, a scheduling kink that has raised the stakes around a road trip that was always going to be a stiff challenge given Los Catrachos’ strong form and well-balanced squad.
“I think they’ve done very, very well over the last couple of years, obviously qualifying for [World Cup] South Africa and then challenging us and Mexico in this region, having players now overseas with a lot more presence than ever before,” US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said on a Monday media conference call. “That’s a couple of signals they send out which are very strong from their end. Football-wise and playing-wise, they’ve done well. You have strikers up front with [Jerry] Bengtson who can also harm an opponent. You have [Roger] Espinoza in midfield, who has a lot of creativity and a wonderful touch. A very strong defense, physically very strong. That’s why we respect them and that’s why we’ve done our homework.”
Competitive visits to Honduras have long been a tough assignment for other teams in the region thanks to the country’s zealous supporters. This week, the hosts have dialed up the intensity by moving up game time in the hopes that daytime heat will unsettle their guests. Just to make it more difficult, Honduras’s government declared a national half-holiday in order to allow the maximum number of Catrachos fans to watch the match.
“Tough conditions,” agreed American striker Herculez Gomez. “Obviously they’re not ideal, but they’re not ideal for both teams. It’s very difficult to play on the road in this region – being the home team is a huge factor. But I think that goes for everybody. 4pm, humidity, the field, the fans…. It’s going to be conditions that are against us, but that’s kind of the way I like to have it.”
A regular starter for Santos Laguna in the recently-opened LigaMX Clausura campaign, Gomez is one of several US attackers in strong form at club level eyeing a starting role against Honduras. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Eddie Johnson are also in the mix up top, presenting Klinsmann with some difficult, but welcome decisions.
"I think if you look individually on paper at each and every one of our attackers, you’ve got a wealth of riches,” Gomez added. “Our problem is being a cohesive unit, getting used to each other … we’re still kind of gelling. But these are good problems for Jurgen: who to start, who to play, who’s in their moment.”
Klinsmann and his players are sounding the bullish notes you’d expect from them, focusing on winning away. On Wednesday, a more cautious approach seems likely. A 4-2-3-1 formation featuring two, perhaps even three, defensive-minded central midfielders like Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, or Maurice Edu in support of Bradley’s more advanced role makes a lot of sense.
With little in the way of out-and-out wing players at his disposal, Klinsmann will look to the likes of Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Sacha Kljestan, or Jose Torres to provide both creativity and cover along the flanks. Ideally for the Yanks, outside backs Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler – the odds-on pick to replace the injured Steve Cherundolo and become cap-tied to the United States in the process – will have chance to roam forward and offer width to the attack. Geoff Cameron is the likely partner for experienced captain Carlos Bocanegra in central defense. A diverse allotment of reserves provides the coaching staff with ample alternatives.
“Expect a great atmosphere,” Bradley said. “It’ll be a great afternoon. Growing up, these games with everything on the line are the games you dream of playing in. So we’re excited.”
GK: Noel Valladares (Olimpia), Donis Escober (Olimpia), José Mendoza (Marathon)
DEF: Arnold Peralta (Vida), Bryan Beckeles (Olimpia), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Wisla Krakow), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan), Juan Pablo Montes (Platense), Juan Carlos Garcia (Olimpia), Orlin Peralta (Vida)
MID: Luis Garrido (Red Star), Jorge Claros (Hibernian), Roger Espinoza (Wigan, England), Alex Lopez (Olimpia), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Mario Martinez (Seattle Sounders), Aldo Oviedo (Real Espana)
FOR: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Roger Rojas (Olimpia), Carlo Costly (Veria), Georgie Welcome (Motagua), Christian Altamirano (Marathon)
GK: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa - 5/3 SO), Tim Howard (Everton - 22/9 SO), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire - 0/0)
DEF: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City - 0/0), Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander - 31/5), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City - 5/0), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana - 0/0), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg - 0/0), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders - 0/0), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy - 0/0), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim - 3/0), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg - 3/0)
MID: Michael Bradley (Roma - 19/5), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo - 0/0), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor - 9/0), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04 - 5/0), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht - 12/0), Jose Torres (Tigres - 9/0), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim - 4/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City - 3/0)
FOR: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar - 17/6), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur - 26/10), Herculez Gomez (Santos - 6/2), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders - 11/10)
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