“The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned burnt
But that won’t happen to us
‘Cause it’s always been a matter of trust” — Billy Joel
Simple question: do we trust the 2013 version of the United States National Team yet? Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad rides a three-game winning streak into tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Utah against Honduras (8:30 p.m., ESPN). In the span of 11 days, all the angst hovering over the team has dissipated. The U.S. is now atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal with 10 points from five matches – two points clear of Costa Rica and Mexico, with a game in hand on El Tri. A win Tuesday night against Los Catrachos and fans can start scouting which hostels in Brazil are the safest, along with which beaches in Rio offer the most lax dress codes.
Making it all the favorable, Honduras – which beat the U.S. in February – is missing numerous key players through injury, suspension and general unhappiness as Jerry Bengston, the Honduran who scored the game-winner in the first meeting, walked out on the team due to lack of playing time
And still … do we trust the team to step out onto Rio Tinto Stadium and take care of business? No wobbles. No late goals. No drama. Three points. No more. No less.
U.S. Soccer fans tend to be a fragile bunch. All the years of trying to defend their sport have frayed many nerves and eroded their exterior confidence. A little bit of unhappiness and they melt like an M&M minus its thin candy shell.
Let’s play this devil’s advocate scenario: suppose the U.S. besieges the Honduras goal, only it can’t score. Against the run of play, Honduras scores a late goal after the 75th minute and the U.S. can’t equalize. The U.S. fan Chicken Little mentality would then extrapolate how the team would lose its next game in September (on the road in Costa Rica) then figure out a way to lose to Mexico in Columbus, making qualification a nervy sweat right down to the final two games in October.
That might be overly dramatic, but with a win and three points vs. Honduras the United States and Klinsmann can kick their shoes off, enjoy the summer and relax. Sure the Gold Cup is on the horizon, but that won’t be massively pressure-filled affair with the U.S. and Mexico expected to send weakened lineups. If the U.S. lost — which would be its first on homesoil a qualifier since 2001 — then there’s a lot of agita and sour stomachs during the months of July and August. Yes, in this scenario the U.S. is still going to Brazil, but two months of uneasiness would undo all the good the team showed vs. Jamaica and Panama.
With the Confederations Cup underway and many U.S.-based soccer fans watching, most people have already started dreaming about Brazil. No need, after the work they’ve done so far in 2013, to turn that into a potential nightmare in the fall. A win tonight and the circle of trust between Jurgen, the players, the fans and the media seems all that much stronger.
BUYING IT?: Are we sold on the Omar Gonzalez-Matt Besler center back partnership? It’s hard to get a gauge since Jamaica and Panama did little to threaten the U.S. defense. While we still can’t say we’re out-and-out confident in the pair, at least Klinsmann has found a duo which is under 30 who he can seemingly count on moving forward. If nothing else, the consistency is welcome. (With DaMarcus Beasley out through suspension, figure Edgar Castillo plays at left back tonight.)
MISSING: When U.S. fans were gnashing their teeth about the USMNT, Honduras was riding high and looking like a legitimately good team and a lock for the World Cup. Honduras righted a little bit of the ship, beating Jamaica last week, but before that Los Catrachos had lost two straight to Panama and Costa Rica. Honduras will be without defender Maynor Figeuroa and midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia. Starting center back Victor Bernardez is also out. Honduras’ next match is in September at Mexico, so even at less than full-strength they’ll be desperate for points tonight.
Lineup Guess (4-2-3-1):
Figure it’s more of the same from Klinsmann. Despite his fine game vs. Panama, expect Geoff Cameron to return to the bench in favor of Jermaine Jones, whom the German-born coach continually name checks as one of the team’s most important players, part of its “spine.”
DEF: Evans — Gonzalez — Besler — Castillo
MID: Zusi — Jones– Dempsey — Bradley — F. Johnson
Prediction: The Klinsmann graph chart keeps going , as Charlie Kelly would say, up, up, up, up …. U.S. 3, Honduras 0.
[Photo via Getty]