At the halfway point in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign, America is breathing easy at the top of the six-team table, recently coming off of two victories over Jamaica and Panama. After a tricky start to the last stage of qualifying, the team rallied and has found themselves in a great position to ease into the World Cup in Brazil next summer. With one game left in June against Honduras, the USA could basically wrap it up and head into the Gold Cup with full confidence, while the final qualifiers in the fall could morph into relaxed friendlies.
Several players have emerged as playmakers in the recent games. Jozy Altidore has finally re-discovered his goal scoring form, Michael Bradley looks as good as ever in the center of the park, and Geoff Cameron had a strong showing as a defensive midfielder in the Panama match where he lofted a perfect long-ball pass that Eddie Johnson converted for the goal. Even DaMarcus Beasley has re-discovered a place in the team at the left back position and has put in solid displays.
Meanwhile, Mexico was booed off of the pitch after enduring a 3rd straight goalless draw at Azteca Stadium, and has found their qualifying campaign to become one of frustration. It looks as though America will be brightly striding ahead with full confidence to Brazil if we can grind out a result against Honduras next week.
But this is where the full merit of the United States Men’s Soccer team will be tested. Honduras is a capable team that has been on the rise for several years in the CONCACAF region. After reaching the 2010 World Cup and playing well at the 2012 Olympics, Honduras knows they can compete with the world’s best. Honduras actually inflicted the Americans’ only loss in their first match, and a look at the extended highlights shows a Honduras team that basically dominated America from the first whistle until the last.
With a squad of players like Carlo Costly, Jerry Bengston, Roger Espinoza, and Wilson Palacios, Honduras is placing guys into legitimate clubs across the world. Additionally, they will come to America next week with an eye on winning the game. With Mexico’s troubles, Honduras could leapfrog them into the top half of the hexagonal table. Such a result would completely open up the group again and force the USA back into a tricky race.
However, if America can avenge the earlier loss in Honduras, they will put a sizable 6-point gap between them and the fourth place spot (which will have to navigate a tricky playoff fixture against New Zealand). By all reason, a win for America over Honduras would put the team on the brink of World Cup qualification with four games to spare. Such a result is a dream come true for the summer that looked so shaky when Jamaica had equalized late in the game just over a week ago. Soccer is a funny sport that can change on its head at any moment.
I do worry over the general focus of this American team, and they have shown a lack of consistent play, but America does tend to play much better on home soil. With Honduras coming to our backyard, I expect the Americans to come out on top of a tight affair, 2-1.