By Jon Levy
A month ago it looked like we were in for what could pass for a marquee CONCACAF friendly. Now that’s wrong for a couple reasons. Aside from the fact that no “marquee CONCACAF friendly” outside of U.S./Mexico exists, both the U.S. and Honduras have now both been hit with the injury bug.
Wilson Palacios (who would have been my Honduran Player to Watch, not for the first time) has a knock, and if the Yanks play like Jurgen wants them to, his steel will be sorely missed in the defensive midfield. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan, still U.S. Soccer’s biggest star, is out injured as well. No worries, Klinsmann called Edson Buddle to fill Lando’s roster spot. Spoiler alert: Buddle will not be my U.S. Player to Watch in this match.
And for all those that complain about Kaiser Klinsmann’s continued omission of Omar Gonzalez, myself included, we can feel not quite as hard-done-by as the Honduran fan base that has to deal with manager Luis Fernando Suárez sleeping on Andy Najar. Is he waiting for Najar to marinate? Put him in a Ziploc with Dwayne De Rosario and a bunch of spices and throw him back in the MLS for another twelve months? Andy’s got to feel like the prized college recruit that was promised a starting job, only to rot on the bench or in the scout team throughout his freshman year. Maybe his Mom will agitate the athletic department and try to force a transfer to The States.
Okay, I’m done kvetching; on to the footy!
What to watch for from the Yanks
Klinsmann’s Yanks have scored one goal in three matches under his direction. And as much as the former Germany striker preaches a good gospel on viewing the game in different ways and coaching to the talent available, the dude’s going to unravel if the U.S. doesn’t start puttin’ ‘em in the net. Jurgen’s been vocally goal-hungry in recent press conferences, and there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity. Roster selections like DaMarcus Beasley, Brek Shea, and a glut of central midfielders seem to point the way back to the Klinsmann 4-3-3, an ideologically positive formation that has yet to produce results for the team. But by all accounts, the players are behind Klinsmann, and I have no doubt they’ll play like a determined and goal-starved team on Saturday night. And therein lies the rub.
Determined and goal-starved teams with an aim towards impressing a new manager don’t play the world’s most balanced soccer. There’s no reason to think this U.S. team will be the exception. Which is a shame really, because I think a calm and confident version of this team, playing in Kilnsmann’s preferred formation, would score a relatively comfortable victory over Honduras. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and the team keeps its shape and stays disciplined throughout.
Either way, the Yanks should notch a goal or two, but at what expense?
And what will we see out of Honduras?
Honduras is playing a Yanks team that’s perceivably as desperate for goals as it’s been in years, and they follow the U.S. match by taking on the offensively prolific Jamaica. These are great tests for a pretty good squad. Manager Suárez should look to take advantage of the opposing offensive ambition in these matches, and do more than just break forward on the counter. Under Klinsy, frustrated Yanks have shown they’re prone to ceding possession and the run of play to disciplined opponents that pass well. Yes, I know I’ve only got a couple games to go on here, but this happened in parts of the Mexico match, and for most of the Belgium friendly. Similarly, the USMNT exposed Jamaica in the Gold Cup, utilizing their shape and being calm on the ball. Honduras will take a lesson from their opponents’ recent matches, and try to boss the game and run the midfield. They may not have Xavi or De Rossi, but their midfield is usually good enough to bang the ball around and exploit out-of-position players looking to attack … if they’re on their game that is. When Honduras is “feeling it” offensively, they do tend to leave leave gaping holes at the back, even without being forced into those mistakes.
The relative grab bag of young and old players that Honduras brings to Joe Robbie Stadium also has potential to derail the powerful locomotive I’ve described above, but the Honduran team from this summer’s Gold Cup would get my nod over an American squad still very much trying to find itself.
Honduras Player to Watch:
Wilson Palacios Maynor Figueroa
The ability to cut out the US attack and find useful outlets to start the offense will be key for Honduras.
Their center backs are, and have always been, a far cry from Panama’s Felipe Baloy, meaning they can’t afford to let the Yanks get up close and personal with their last line of defense. Palacios, if healthy, would have been the man to watch. He’s one of very few Honduran players with the grit to shield the center backs effectively, and the vision to pick the right pass while under pressure.
In Wilson’s absence, his former Wigan Athletic teammate will have to play a larger role in distribution from his defender spot. He’s been deployed at CB by the national team, as well as at side back, his natural position. Figueroa isn’t as big or as physical as Palacios, nor is he an out-and-out stopper, but he’ll be the best two-way defensive player on the pitch for Honduras, and he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet.
U.S. Player to Watch: Kyle Beckerman
A couple players on this U.S. roster can be described as veterans looking to revive their international careers, while another couple veterans are trying to kick-start USMNT careers that never got properly started in the first place. Through no fault of his own, The Dread Pirate Beckerman is part of the latter group.
Moreover, it seems like Kyle is being given a legitimate shot to establish himself by Klinsmann, which stands in stark opposition to the Bob Bradley view that Beckerman was just good enough to play with the B team. England (and West Ham) supporters recently got to watch a 30-year-old Scott Parker rise to prominence in the national team due to his all-action defensive midfield style. Twenty-nine year old Beckerman could recreate that feat with Kilnsmann’s USMNT.
Prediction: USA 2 – 2 Honduras
The Yanks get their goals, but in a sloppy match. They give up at least one bad goal, and have just as much to work on after the match as they did before. But hey, they put the damn ball in the net. Bunbury to shine; he owes me for not honoring my prediction and scoring in the last pair of friendlies.
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!