The USMNT plays Honduras tonight at 10:30 pm on FS1. Here are four thoughts as we head into the match.
This is a Must Win
The U.S. sits at the bottom of the Hex with no points and a -5 goal difference. They have used up their margin for error. Setting a rough benchmark, the U.S. probably needs a minimum of 16 points for qualification without a playoff. They now need to take 16/24 points. If they fail to win tonight, it will be either 15 or 16 of 21 remaining. Things would start getting hairy.
The U.S. still has to play Mexico in Azteca. If you pencil in a loss there, that is 15 or 16 of 18 points. CONCACAF road games are not easy to win. The U.S. would need wins at Honduras, at Panama, and at Trinidad & Tobago while keeping it clean at home. Needless to say, it’s much better to get the three points tonight and exhale a bit.
Expect This Match To Be Competitive
The U.S. has had qualifying success against Honduras. They have won three of the four Hex matches during the past two cycles. But, it hasn’t come with ease. The U.S. has fallen behind after early goals and had to fight back. The Americans have also had to scrape by on a late goal.
Honduras will sit back in two banks of four and defend. That means the U.S. must hold possession, must take the initiative, and must try to break them down. That’s not something they did with high proficiency under Klinsmann.
The U.S. should field a more attacking lineup at home to pierce through the Honduras defense. But, don’t be surprised if this match turns on a set piece, either converting one, defending one, or not getting caught out trying to convert one.
This is Where Bruce Arena Should Pay Dividends
Klinsmann was the broad visionary. Bruce Arena is a nuts and bolts tactician. He is strong where Klinsmann was weak, getting players in the right positions and pairing players who complement each other. He’s been successful everywhere he’s gone and has experience at this level. The U.S. has to go out tonight and grind out a practical three points. This was why they brought in Arena.
Preview For Central Midfield
Jermaine Jones is suspended for the first match. From a developmental standpoint, that may not be the worst thing. Jones will be 36 at the 2018 World Cup, which is ancient. So will Kyle Beckerman. Even Michael Bradley will be 30. That’s no bueno at a position that places a premium on running.
The U.S. has had major problems controlling the middle of the field, with or without the ball. Compound the difficulty when you’re sacrificing a third central midfielder to play Clint Dempsey as an auxiliary forward in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. Maybe it’s Kellyn Acosta. Maybe it’s Sebastian Lletget. Maybe it’s Dax McCarty. But, central midfield could be an area where Arena’s MLS connection comes into play.