BY PATRICK MacDONALD
The 2014 World Cup is just a little over a year away and the final path to a date in Brazil starts tomorrow as the United States travels to take on Honduras.
The most recent dose of American soccer was a brutal display against Canada. However, the last time most of the starters took the field, it was a spirited draw against Russia. Those very same starters have also struggled on the road in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying, leaving many questions going into this round and into this specific match.
The U.S. opens qualifying relatively healthy, which is good news. Aside from Steve Cherundolo and the soul searching Landon Donovan, the U.S. will be at full strength. Cherundolo’s backup is Timothy Chandler who finally seems ready to commit to the United States and should fill in nicely. Donovan hasn’t really played much of a role under Klinsmann so it’s hard to say he’ll be missed (who knew one could ever utter such a line about the team’s all time leading scorer?). Graham Zusi has slid in nicely on the right side and will do so again against Honduras.
The U.S. also comes in packing some offensive firepower. Clint Dempsey is starting to settle in at Tottenham, producing some of that goal scoring magic he displayed at Fulham. Then of course there is Jozy Altidore who’s been on a tear all season and most recently showed tremendous fortitude scoring in the face of racist abuse in the Netherlands.
If there’s one question remaining about this roster, it’s whether or not Klinsmann throws Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez in the fire in place of Carlos Bocanegra. It’s a move that seems pretty foolish with such a crucial match on the line. That being said, the constant refrain since World Cup 2010 still rings true; Bocanegra will be 35 in 2014. If that transition is not going to be made to the next generation of centerbacks now, then when? One thing’s for sure; Gonzalez or Besler cannot all of the sudden be the starter in Brazil.
What of the U.S. opponent for tomorrow? Honduras features a side made up mostly of players from their own domestic league with a few MLS and European players sprinkled in. A number of the players called in were part of the spirited Honduran Olympic team. Away from those, some familiar names to MLS fans are Jerry Bengston, Oscar Boniek Garcia, and Roger Espinoza who now plies his trade in Wigan. It’s a good team, but one that shouldn’t present too many problems for the U.S.
Of course, that’s been said before.
The U.S. should win, much like they should have won in Jamaica or in Guatemala. As they have learned, these road matches always prove tough in qualification. Until Klinsmann and company can prove they can win consistently on the road, it’s hard to predict anything other than a draw.