USA gets Hexed

LA Times

Tim Howard (USA) reacts to Honduras’ second goal

Three months after Canada’s horrific exit from the World Cup Qualification in Honduras, it was Team USA’s turn to visit San Pedro Sula and enjoy the hospitality of Honduras. Despite a opening goal by Clint Dempsey, the Hondurans came back to win 2-1 in the opening of the final round of World Cup Qualification.

What does home field mean? Well, set the kickoff time for mid afternoon when those USA players used to either Europe (or a winter off from MLS) will have to play through the heat and humidity of San Pedro Sula; fill the Stadio Olympico with thousands of hostile fans that can boost the Hondurans and wear down even the toughest Americans and you get a chance for FIFA’s 59th ranked team to knock off the 28th ranked team in the first round of CONCACAF’s hex round of 2014 WCQ.

While the USA has been a fixture at the last few World Cups, their position seems a bit more tenuous this time as several of the other CONCACAF nations seem to have made up some ground on the Americans. Despite Jurgen Klinsmann securing a rather rare victory for the Americans in Mexico City last year, his tenure as coach has been a little underwhelming. The team lost to Jamaica for the first time in the previous round of qualification and were very nearly knocked out in a tight finish between USA, Jamaica and Guatemala in their Pool. Add to that, they have struggled in their last two matches against Canada (both 0-0 draws), and you have a Team USA that does not seem up to repeating the progress of the past few World Cup editions of the team.

Honduras does not have the star power that USA has available, but as Canada discovered (and both countries already knew) the environment and fans of Central American countries provides a much tougher opponent than they are used to. Perhaps this is the weakness of Klinsmann as the USA coach; he’s not as fully versed in the environment that is CONCACAF. Yes, Klinsmann has coached a team all the way to the World Cup final, he has even hoisted the trophy himself as a player, but he has not dealt with the hot and cold environment of North American soccer. Hot in that the passion in Latin America rivals anything in Europe, and cold in that USA can barely manage home field advantage in the USA (the last Gold Cup final in Kansas City was a pro-Mexico crowd). As long as there is relative apathy in Canada and the US, it will always be difficult for those teams to develop the same level of home crowd intimidation that the Latin American countries can provide. That will leave open the possibility of dropped points at home (Canada wouldn’t have needed to worry about getting any result in Honduras had they won at home), that means the those difficult road games take on even more importance.

The USA still has four more road games in the hex, five if you count their home game against Mexico. While they only have to finish 3rd to qualify and even 4th gives them a qualifier vs Oceania, look at your map and you will find that the road to Rio runs right through Central America.