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What we learned from Wednesday’s U.S. loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying

Feb 6, 2013, 6:50 PM EDT

Honduras' Juan Garcia celebrates with teammate Luis Garrido after scoring against the U.S. during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match at Olimpico stadium in San Pedro Sula

Final round World Cup qualifying is off to the rockiest of starts, and the disillusionment with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will surely reach critical mass after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras.

Overall, the United States was on its way to managing out a 1-1 draw, which would have been a satisfactory result. But what could have been a routine defensive play in the back fell apart in spectacularly and well …

Here’s what we can take away from the match in hot and humid San Pedro Sula:

Why the loss hurts:

As we’ve said before, a loss on the road in World Cup qualifying is hardly a deal-killer. Nine matches remain, including five at home, where the United States has been next to unbeatable through the last few qualifying cycles.

But the final round qualifying schedule, which fell so unfavorably to the United States, adds pressure. Consider that the United States may well lose its next match road match, at Mexico. That makes the March 22 contest at home (in Denver) against Costa Rica an absolute must have victory for Klinsmann and Co.

Otherwise, the United States could go into final round Match Day 4 with zero wins. That would be very, very bad.

(MORE: Which U.S. men needed to be better)

The bold linecup selection that backfired:

You can’t say Klinsmann is afraid of changes or bold gambits. Lots of them, in fact, especially considering such a short camp to rehearse the adjustments. Jozy Alitdore’s inclusion at striker over the usually preferred Herculez Gomez fell as a surprise.

Same for Eddie Johnson as a starter, once again nominally along the left, as we saw toward the end of semifinal qualifying.  But none of the changes ticked the shocker box like the eye-catching choice across the back line. Klinsmann adjudged that the future was now in making a brave switcharoo: captain Carlos Bocanegra took a seat on the bench as Omar Gonzalez was blooded in the harshest of CONCACAF environments in his first World Cup qualifier appearance.

Gonzalez, of course, just came off his first extended U.S. camp. On Honduras’ goal, it wasn’t so much that Gonzalez was in there; the problem was more about someone not taking charge. Had Bocanegra been there, perhaps communication – so important from the center backs in a flat four defense – would have been sharper and catastrophe could have been dodged.

(MORE: Discussing the Carlos Bocanegra/Omar Gonzalez switch)

Lots of blame to go around on the winning goal:

Tim Howard is everyone’s hero, but he didn’t do well on the home team’s game-winner. Bottom line there, if the U.S. goalkeeper comes for that ball, he’s as to get it. Period.

Meanwhile, Geoff Cameron needed to clear the danger. Period. Even if Howard was screaming for it – we may know more later after hearing from the U.S. men – no one would fault Cameron for putting that menacing, sneaky little through ball somewhere into urban San Pedro Sula.

And then there was Gonzalez caught ball watching rather than tracking behind the play.

Credit to Honduras’ Oscar Boniek Garcia, the Houston Dynamo jitterbug attacker for his committed work to create that goal. But from the U.S. side, that goal in three words: What a mess.

(MORE: Klinsmann addresses the loss)

The formation:

Klinsmann lined up his team in a modified 4-4-2, with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson sometimes swapping positions, striker for left-sided midfielder.

The United States did a reasonable job of pressing up high, as a unit, which is the only way to make that effective, of course. On the other hand, getting the ball back doesn’t help much if you can’t do much with it.

The U.S. passing out of the back: pedestrian.

The U.S. passing in midfield: uninspired.

Still, strategically, the United was managing out a solid, tactical match in hot and humid conditions. (So debilitating that Klinsmann had used all three subs by the 66th minute.) The visitors sat deep and waited for chances, like the 29th minute hook-up between Johnson on the left and Jozy Altidore, who needed just a little more separation from his defender to get a little better effort on goal.

No, the Americans didn’t create a bucket full of chances, and Honduras had far more possession. But neither did the home team bother Howard often. Well, except for …

(MORE: Missing Landon Donovan. A lot)

Bad defending on the first Honduras goal, too:

We saw shades of USMNT 2012 on the Hondurans first half goal. The overhead kick finish by Juan Carlos Garcia was wonderful, no doubt, and all credit for getting his team back into the match with something truly special. But it should not have gotten there.

The marking and inability to organize and react quickly after the initial corner kick clearance is disappointing at best, perhaps inexcusable for a team that wants to be at a higher level. It might be tempting to say this is what you get from having two inexperienced center backs, but the fact is that goals were allowed in 2012 where the same missing element (failure to organize quickly after a restart) was in play.

Klinsmann warned that it was all about being competitive, vigilant and alert. His men were anything but as Maynor Figueroa was uncontested to chest down a ball 14 yards from goal, arranging Garcia’s equalizer.

Jermaine Jones good, Jermaine Jones bad:

Dempsey’s first half goal was great stuff, a clever run to match a precise, technical finish. But it was only the punctuation mark on a great sentence, so to speak, one written by midfielder Jermaine Jones.

Jones is among the chief whipping boys of U.S. fans, and for good reason. Klinsmann loves him some Jones for the infectious warrior spirit and ability to inspire that fearlessness in others. But the man’s technical ability and speed of play kills the United States possession time and again. It certainly did on plenty of occasions Wednesday.

Klinsmann contends that Jones has game-changing passes in him, and the Schalke man showed it for one very important moment in San Pedro Sula, arranging Dempsey spectacularly with the best U.S. pass of the afternoon.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match Wednesday in San Pedro Sula)

  1. tylerbetts - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    I get putting some of the blame on Howard for the game winning goal, but from my point of view, 99.99% of the blame lies on Gonzales. he simply can’t loaf like that. Not at this level.

    This game was just frustrating. Very similar, to me, as the game at Jamaica last year. Same result, too. You know you’re in trouble when you need Michael Bradley to drop deep in his own third so often early in the game because you can’t possess the ball. You know you’re in trouble when you need Clint Dempsey to play as a box-to-box midfielder and make key stops on attacks. But, even with all that, just on talent along, this team should not lose to Honduras.

    This is on Jurgen to me. Not understanding the situation. Not understanding the environment. Not understanding CONCACAF. The US has the unique challenge of collecting players from all over the world. When you do that and have a camp, it’s tough to get them to play as a cohesive team. When you do that without a camp, it’s damn near impossible. When you do that without a camp and then put together a lineup that is brand new and features a young back four who have never suited up together? That’s a recipe for disaster. Which is what we got.

  2. David Casarez - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    Have to agree 100% with your comment “The U.S. passing out of the back: pedestrian….The U.S. passing in midfield: uninspired”

    USMNT tends to find mind boggling ways to screw of the distribution from the back line to the middle.

    David Casarez
    @soccernomic

  3. paladinvt - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    This wasn’t a soccer match, it was a horror show. Watching as a pass from midfield gets picked out by a defender because the forward decided to wait for the ball to come to him is just annoying. The U.S. was careless in possession, defended poorly, and couldn’t put together much of anything. I am not entirely sure what Klinsmann’s project is right now, but if the team he put out today is a reflection of it, I’ll be wishing the U.S. had picked a coach whose abilities as a coach weren’t in such question when he was hired (remember the Bayern disaster). This was very ugly, and I fear it’s going to get uglier still.

  4. player169 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Your thoughts on Jones are dead on. Edu is clearly the better deep defensive mid, so I won’t be surprised if he gets the start over Williams next game. The entire team looked flat. The ball was not moving or possession being maintained through the midfield. Jones taking corners also just seems wrong. I’m pretty biased, but Zusi should have started, because his huddle and ability to spread the field and switch the point of attack was needed. Without him, Bradley was left to pretty much direct traffic by himself…

    • mvktr2 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:32 PM

      I LOVE Edu as a destroyer, plant the veteran yet still young, physical, and smart enough to not make dumb mistakes Edu in front of the two young center backs. Then tell Bradley to play box-to-box. The problem is that Edu won’t start over Williams/doesn’t need to start over him if Williams/Edu are going to be asked to play outside somewhere as Williams was tonight. Zusi was the best option at RM or Kljestan. Heck during the game the RM/LM swapped sides as is common with EJ over there. Btw EJ continues to improve and impress (as much as one could in this effort). I was actually quite impressed by by Altidore today, showed real determination while he and Dempsey both held the ball well. The attacking problem is there is nothing, no one consistently doing anything up the middle.

      Seems the solution in a LD-less team revolves around Bradley. Either pin him as ‘the’ defensive mid and insert someone up top in the center such as Kljestan or insert Edu or another option as ‘the’ D-mid allowing Bradley to focus on attacking and box-to-box play. Additionally quit playing holding mids out of position.

  5. mvktr2 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    For my meager soccer mind the game turned on the following areas.
    1-Jermaine Jones wasn’t tough gritty JJ, the guy we worry about getting a couple yellows.
    2-M Bradley simply had an off game, wasn’t as solid defensively and completely wasted every service opportunity I can recall him having. Of note here was that Jones’ corners were far FAR superior.
    3-Chandler looked like he was showing up to practice for the first time after a long injury layoff, and got schooled big time again and again by Costly. Lets hope that was mental fatigue from his physical fatigue.
    4-Chandler’s ineptitude was compounded by Danny Williams total lack of impact upon the game. It was almost as if the US was a man down.

    There were obviously other areas where players weren’t productive, but I think Honduras owned the left side of their formation (our right side) and had their way with the defensive mids, quite perplexing, and that’s where the game turned.

    • pensfan603 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:30 PM

      Reading some of these comments saddens me do you really no that little about the sport.
      to Blame
      1. Klinsmann for all the bad decisions he made
      2. Daniel Williams for not telling Klinsmann he wasnt match Fit
      and then there is a huge gap
      3. The attacking players for not attacking letting honduras make lezza fair passes out of the back field all day, but thats also Klinsmanns fault again,
      and on that goal you blame second the midfield, even though you really shouldnt because Sacha is an Attacking Mid so like how is he suppose to know, Klinsmann needs to know his team better. and thierd cameron for not playing it right but he has been playing mid for the last month how is he suppose to know, you can really chalk that one up to yurgans stupidity. You should Blame Yurgan for this because the players were put into Positions to Fail.

      He has the freakin Talent he made the wrong decisions and Gonzalex has played against these forwards before and beat them

  6. pensfan603 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Are you kinding Klinnsman, heres why we lost.
    Bad formation in the first half lead to us having no attack and to much de plus bad formation lead to early changes in the second meaning we didnt have enough subs to put in playmakers up top
    this should of been a 4-4-2, Same Back Line, Bradley central de mid, then Do combo of Zusi, Adu, Jones, maybe zusi playing attacking mid, he do anything really, then uptop Johnson and Dempsey,
    your subs go as Follows, Gomez in the 60th for johnson creates attacking presents quickness forces Honduras to make a sub, then at the 70th Klejstic for Adu or Jones, he moves to central attacking mid field you move Zusi outwide, especially since both outside defenseman were gased and he can cover defensively while stile being able to create opertunities. And then you can use your last sub to take someone out defensively or you can take a midfield out its up to you.
    THe Problem here is Klinsmann was forced to make subs because he had a bad starting line up with Williams and Altidore in the 4-3-3. You can blame the defense all you want but honduras has a great offense and they did well with one mistake, honduras will probably score two against Mexico remind you one of the goals they scored against the us was on an amazing bicycle the problem here was the attack, you have the right players with the right skills to win you just arent using them Klinsmann, not to mention if Klinsmann hadnt forced landon to go on loan last year he might not be asking for this break as Klinsmann has really turned Landon Off to the US National team. With him you could just plug him in on the Mid wing for Adu in the Begining and make that attack even more Dynamic, the problem here is the Coach, you cant play cinder block defense for 90 minutes against honduras and expect to win.
    Ive been saying it since the first game of his reign Fire Klinsmann.

    • wfjackson3 - Feb 6, 2013 at 9:43 PM

      Are you actually meaning Edu, or are you advocating for the inclusion of Freddy Adu? Adu would be a disaster.

    • wfjackson3 - Feb 6, 2013 at 9:44 PM

      By the way, we didn’t come out in a 4-3-3. I am having a hard time taking your comments seriously.

      • pensfan603 - Feb 7, 2013 at 8:03 AM

        I dont know if you watched or looked at the formational line up but it was a 4-3-3

  7. mca8608 - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Klinsmann’s ‘attacking’ style of play in this game = long ball, after long ball. Terrible work on the wings. Little to no service to players up front. Really uninspired playing all around. You can’t blame this on playing surface, atmosphere, weather, humidity, etc.
    Poor lineup selection – keep Boca in the lineup but push him to LB. Move Fabian Johnson up to left mid – he can consistently get up the field and has shown to be dangerous in the final third. Williams shouldn’t be on the field until he consistently performs well at club level. Jones isn’t a winger – DON’T play him there. Everyone just looked lazy, save for Michael Bradley who had to sit way too deep.

  8. player169 - Feb 6, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    Unfortunately, I think this going to be a lot like the last round of qualifying. We are going to be biting our nails until the end.

    I applaud Klinsman for developing and testing the waters of the American players. I think he is still trying to find his core group that will consistently perform for him and at the very least put forth the effort that should be expected from international play.

    If you look at the last two games A team and B team, who has REALLY said, I will show you 110% at all times and make the international level plays and decisions on the field for you? It’s been ugly… He’s given plenty of players the chance to step up. Few have seized the opportunity.

  9. dreadpirate82 - Feb 6, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    Gonzalez and Cameron found themselves out of position way too often. There seemed to be little organization out of the back. Highly disappointing. Before the game I was pleased with their selection in the lineup. hopefully just an aberration, but there are questions to be answered.

    Espinoza owned the midfield with his badger-like play. Bradley was fine, even if it wasn’t a vintage Bradley performance. Jones had his moments, and Williams was close to invisible. I felt like the US needed another midfielder who could combat the energy of the Honduras midfield with calm on the ball and more activity defensively. Someone like Jose Torres.

    Jozy did a nice job, considering what little he had to do. He held up play well, and was close to a couple of great moments. Dempsey’s goal was gorgeous, but he seemed to float through much of the game. Gomez has given the team a second half spark in the past. I was surprised he never got a shot.

  10. pensfan603 - Feb 6, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    They played a 4-3-3 with one attacker staying up each time, My nickname for it is the brick formation, little movement everyone staying in the same place on de like a brick with one man up top.
    Its said when you say the biggest play maker in the first half was probably the goalie.
    You rarticle is terrible though pressure up top are you smoking something, they let honduras walk up to the freakin half way line before they even started pressuring them. “the united states was managing out a solid, tactical match. No they were stiting in the back field waiting for shots so they could then get howard to play the long ball. If you really think the problem came after the 66th minute, your an idiot, that the only time they had an offensive presence and when you play a honduras you have to have that, there is a reason the matt doyles and the Simon Borgs had them scoring multi goals in this game, cause honduras has a very good attack that feeds on the US weakness. They needed to attack because you cant expect them to hold honduras under 2 goals i dont think mexico and most teams can. Just bad strategy all around by klinsmann i blame him soly for this he has the players but yet he still puts in the Danial WIlliams of the world. Like seriously you have players like Hercules Gomez, and Micheal Parkhurst on the Bench and you have him in the game its really a disgrace.

    • dreadpirate82 - Feb 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM

      Find another site to troll if you’re going to call the writers (and commenters) idiots. Just because you disagree with someone, it doesn’t make them an idiot. I love this site because of the excellent writing and reasoned discussion. There are few absolutes in sports. Unless you listen to drivetime talk radio, where talking loud and talking down on people replaces good discussion.

      Keep up the good work, Steve, Richard, and company.

      • pensfan603 - Feb 7, 2013 at 8:08 AM

        No it really does because for the past what year two years that yurgan klinsmann has been coach we have seen the exact same problems over and over against but yet people still misatribute loses like this and at this point either you dont know the team or your an idiot.
        Me Doyle, and Borgs can say the same thing over and over and be right every time but yet when it comes into these games you still are suprised by what happens, this is exactly what i expected to happen, they are a good offensive team, and have a bad backline you couldnt beat it because yurgan didnt have a good strategy it put players in positions to fail

  11. pensfan603 - Feb 6, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    What this team should look like
    Howard
    Chandler, Gonzalez, Cameron, Johnson (Bench: Parkhurst, Besler)
    Bradley
    Zusi Adu (Jones)
    Torres (Klejstan)
    Dempsey Johson (Gomez)

  12. jumpingnots - Feb 6, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    Like I mentioned before this game even started today, any coach also klinsman can’t make a winning team if you do not have the qualified people to win a game,if they can’t get 3 points out of games like this one what will they do when they have to play against much better teams in the world,you can’t play MLS level soccer that’s the point,besides I have the idea that this coach does not know the people he has to work with,you need a bigger pool off players as a real team and have more camps so the players get to know each other,otherwise we never get to that world level and we will never play world class soccer,we will forever play the second fidle in this game.

  13. wfjackson3 - Feb 6, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    I thought that it was a huge mistake using all of the subs on midfielders. The defensive line looked absolutely spent by the 55th minute and either Gonzales or Chandler needed to be subbed in the worst way. I think if we had put someone else in for Gonzales, we might have salvaged the draw.

  14. tylerbetts - Feb 6, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    Just throwing it out there after I’ve had time for the emotion to settle …

    Maybe the real lesson learned is simply this: The US isn’t as good as we think they are, and certainly not as good as we hope they are. Maybe we, as fans, overrate our players. To a very, very high level.

    Or maybe we just can’t find a way to get the right whole to the sum of our parts. As much promise as we see in Gonzales, maybe pairing him with Cameron isn’t the best idea? Maybe we need our midfielders to be in the right spots to be fully effective? Maybe we need someone with creativity and great crossing skills to deliver the ball to Jozy?

    • mvktr2 - Feb 6, 2013 at 11:54 PM

      tb, I think your last paragraph is spot on and the first sentences may not be far off. The US is lacking linking play through the attacking portions of midfield, it’s been evident under Klinsy for a while now. I’m honest enough to say some of it is talent based, but it’s been exacerbated by Klinsmann not putting together what to us fans at least would appear to be a succinct lineup balancing the roles and strengths of various players.

  15. magicbucs - Feb 7, 2013 at 12:24 AM

    USA defense is terrible…..With USA losing to Honduras and mex/jam in a draw it’s a sad day for concacaf. The concacaf doesn’t deserve 3/4 spots in the world cup.

    • charliej11 - Feb 7, 2013 at 2:28 PM

      Ummm. When Mexico, one of the top teams in the world, and a mortal lock to make the final 16 EVERY WCup, gets beat at home, by the team that is projected to finish 4th or so in the Hex….that means ?………
      …………..CONCACAF does NOT deserve to have 3 1/2 spots….pretty sure you meant that they other way around. You have to.

  16. 127taringa - Feb 7, 2013 at 1:05 AM

    What I learned from this gong show is that there is no way the team should be staying overnight in Honduras before the game. The team should have a private resort to themselves in Mexico where they can get some normal rest, then fly in the morning of the game. There is no way Honduras is a better team and Honduras is not 8-1 better than Canada.
    It is hard to expect results with the massive travel and short adjustment period.

    As for an afternoon match in the scorching heat, maybe the US should be scheduling matches up in Alaska, fair is fair, right?

    The team is not been put in any enviable situations. Who is making the upper managerial decisions anyway?

  17. sedna1 - Feb 7, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised by this loss. Our performance against Canada was abysmal: slow, purposeless passing and totally uninspired play. Our passing must be much crisper with precision and constant motion to passing lanes if we have any hope of disorganizing defenses, even if only momentarily.

  18. pensfan603 - Feb 7, 2013 at 10:37 PM

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