BY PATRICK MacDONALD
In case you missed it, the United States lost to Honduras yesterday.
Naturally, Twitter has devolved into chaotic anarchy and others have deemed this a huge loss that has set back the United States soccer program 10 years. Jeez, we might as well cancel MLS because as a soccer nation we must be doomed … DOOOOMED!
Ok, now let’s take a deep breath and look at yesterday with some perspective, shall we?
If you were one of those people who thought the only potential loss that the U.S. would suffer in the hexagonal would be against Mexico at Azteca, then allow me to sell you this deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. It cannot be emphasized enough how difficult it is to play on the road in CONCACAF. During 2010 qualification, the U.S. lost to Trinidad in the third round and Costa Rica 3-1 in the Hex. What happened after? They won the Hex and won their group in South Africa.
People fail to consider how dangerous it is to actually play within CONCACAF as well. Yesterday’s match was held in the murder capital of the world. Honduras lacks the infrastructure to fight the tide of violence and quite often police are on the take. So, should the U.S. win, they have to trust the often corrupt police force to keep the fans in the stands. With soccer violence flaring up around the world, you don’t think that weighs just a tiny bit in the back of the player’s minds?
Also hats off to the Honduran FA for adding to the home field advantage with the 90 degree heat. Sure, both teams had to play in the same conditions, but it’s not easy to go from the cold in Germany or England and be prepared for 90 degree weather. It’s the exact same reason the U.S. is forcing tropical Costa Rica to play in snowy Denver this March. No one should be surprised that the U.S. wilted in the heat against a Honduran squad that featured many home based players acclimated to the environment.
One of the more confounding refrains to come out of yesterday’s match is this perception that Honduras is a minnow. This is a team that played in the 2010 World Cup. It’s also a team that featured many players from Honduras’ miraculous Olympic run this past summer. They are a good team and no one should forget that. With a fervent home crowd on their side, how well they played shouldn’t have shocked anyone.
All the other factors considered. Let’s take a closer look at the U.S. itself. Jurgen Klinsmann needed to make a move to the future on the defensive line at some point. He did so yesterday by putting Omar Gonzalez in at centerback for Carlos Bocanegra, who as Steve Davis pointed out, is playing part time for a last place Spanish second division side. Coupled with the fact that Tim Chandler was playing on the right in his first competitive match, should anyone really be shocked that the backline looked shaky?
There are going to be growing pains as the unit gels. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen in the first qualifier, but it was nevertheless inevitable. And before anyone writes off Omar Gonzalez due to his ball watching, let’s not forget Geoff Cameron received a red card and scored an own goal in two friendlies prior to his rise.
Finally, with CONCACAF playing the rest of it’s matches last night, it allows anyone to pause and take a look at the match and the Hex with tremendous perspective. Right now, Honduras is the only team with 3 points. The U.S. sits only 1 point out of second place with 9 matches to go – the majority of which are at home. Mexico, the purported unstoppable CONCACAF juggernaut, couldn’t even do what the U.S. managed to do in Columbus – beat Jamaica. Only drawing at the fortress that is Azteca is a much bigger deal than the U.S. losing in the cauldron that is Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano.
No, it’s by no means time to panic. Yesterday was not a huge loss; it merely stinks. The U.S. has nine matches to go, by the end of which they’ll very likely be in one of the top 3 spots. This team is going to Brazil, and I don’t need the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you on that.