Two streaks will be on the line in Dallas this evening when the USMNT kick off against Honduras, looking to appear in their fifth straight Gold Cup final, while extending a nine game win streak.
The U.S. has rolled over four opponents by a combined 16-3 scoreline to reach this semifinal, with a comebacking Landon Donovan leading this “B” team of players fighting for national team redemption and recognition.
Honduras have been far less impressive on their trip to this semifinal, losing to Trinidad and Tobago in Group play, while totalling just four goals to this point in the tournament.
Like the U.S., Honduras have brought along something of a “B” team, leaving out well known players like Roger Espinoza, Carlo Costly and Boniek Garcia. But coach Luis Fernando Suarez does have some of his “A” team at his disposal.
Sacha Kljestan’s Anderlecht teammate Andy Najar scored the lone goal in Honduras’ quarterfinal win over Costa Rica and the former DC United man started the Catrachos 1-0 World Cup Qualifier loss to the U.S. in June.
Jorge Claros, Mario Martinez and Marvin Chavez all took part in June and Martinez (Seattle) and Chavez (San Jose) are well known to U.S. fans. Reports linking Claros with a move to Sporting Kansas City have been picking up steam in recent days, so the hard nosed midfielder may be on the verge of joining Major League Soccer.
The U.S. know better than to take Honduras lightly after that narrow win in June, which followed a tough 2-1 road loss in the opening game of the Hex, back in February. That loss was a low point for the national team under Klinsmann and not too many expected the turnaround that sees the U.S. on top of the Hex, while Honduras are sitting fourth.
These are two different teams, but the Americans will know that Honduras are difficult to break down and are not afraid, as the saying goes, to get stuck in. The Catrachos are a physically strong and athletic side and can be a handful on set pieces, which has been a strength for the U.S. in the Gold Cup.
So who will Klinsmann turn to with a place in the Gold Cup Final at stake? Nick Rimando had that huge double save when the El Salvador match was still in the balance, so he will keep his spot. The fullbacks should remain the same with the captain DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Parkhurst again getting the call.
Klinsmann brought in his presumed first choice center back pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, so he figures to play them. Gonzalez wasn’t available against El Salvador, but Besler was. The SKC man was subbed out for Michael Orozco. If Besler is healthy, expect he and Gonzalez to play. If not Orozco or Goodson could fill in. Both have been more than dependable so far, but Orozco fits the Besler mode of ball playing center back better than Goodson.
Honduras’s midfield won’t allow the U.S. too much time on the ball, but that may work out for the U.S. who have excelled of late when playing at a higher pace.
Kyle Beckerman looks set to play in his d-mid role with either Stuart Holden or Mix Diskerud receiving the more advanced central midfield assignment. Joe Corona will play one wing and I think Jose Torres will man the other flank. Eddie Johnson, is another option there. Johnson played well as a forward in a 30 minute appearance versus El Salvador, with a goal and an assist. I see him upfront with Donovan from the start tonight.
That leaves Donovan as withdrawn striker and Johnson up top. Some will call for Wondolowski, but he may be better suited as a bench player. Alan Gordon is another sub forward who could play a role. Gordon’s rough and tumble style, along with his heading ability, could be well suited to challenge the Catrachos.
Who will win? It’s hard to go against the U.S. at the moment. It won’t be easy, Honduras are far better than the likes of Belize and Cuba. Honduras and the U.S. have played two common opponents in this Gold Cup. Both beat Costa Rica 1-0. Costa Rica are a solid team, so a hard game was expected for both. The eye catcher though, is El Salvador. After some early difficulty the U.S. routed the Ticos 5-1, whereas Honduras needed a stoppage time goal from Claros to escape with a 1-0 decision.
The El Salvador result may not mean all that much on the night, but the U.S. looks like a team that will find a way to win against Honduras and a team that will earn their way to Chicago for Sunday’s Gold Cup Final.
Mexico and Panama face off in the nightcap at Cowboy Stadium. on a field that is said to be small and lumpy. Panama won Group A, leaving Mexico to finish in second. The Canaleros actually beat El Tri 2-1 in the opening round of Group play.
Mexico have been struggling to meet expectations in WCQ as well as in Gold Cup play. This would be a huge win for Panama and perhaps an even greater loss for Mexico. But. I don’t think we’ll see it. Instead I expect what we expected all along, the U.S vs. Mexico on July 28th in Chicago for the Gold Cup Final.