United States Inches Closer to World Cup Qualification with Win over Honduras

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterJune 18, 2013

As the final seconds ticked off the clock Tuesday night in Utah, the home supporters celebrated their home team's imminent win with a boast in song form.

"We are going to Brazil," they sang. "We are going to Brazil."

The United States men's national team was in the process of wrapping up a 1-0 victory over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, and even though those three points won't actually send the U.S. to next year's World Cup, it's hard to argue with the sentiment.

In victory, the U.S. maintained its lead atop the Hexagonal, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and moved onto 13 points. That's five ahead of rival Mexico, but more importantly, it's only three away from the magic number of 16.

In two of the last four Hexes, 16 points have been enough to secure automatic World Cup qualification (the other two totals were 13 and 17), and with a win in any of its four remaining qualifiers, the U.S. would almost certainly qualify.

That business will have to wait, though. After picking up three wins in three qualifiers this month, the U.S. is off until September, when it will travel to Costa Rica and host Mexico. The latter will be the latest installment in North America's best rivalry, and after Tuesday's result, it could be the match the sends the U.S. to Brazil.

Jozy Altidore did the honors, scoring the winning goal in the 73rd minute and relieving some pressure after what had been a frustrating performance to that point. It was Altidore's fourth goal in as many games, tying an American record, and it further relegated the big striker's recently ended scoring drought to the annals of history.

It also served as the latest entry in the team's turnaround after a poor start in World Cup qualifying. The U.S. dropped its Hex opener at Honduras, but gained revenge Tuesday, keeping Honduras winless and points-less on the road.

Finally, the goal eased a building sense of frustration for the U.S., which had drawn blanks in the first half and missed a series of chances early in the second. Brad Evans rose highest to meet Zusi's cross in the 56th minute, but his header was too close to the keeper. Altidore had a goal correctly ruled out for offside three minutes later, and Dempsey's diving header—from yet another Zusi cross—was saved in the 70th minute.

But in the 73rd minute, the U.S. was not to be denied.

Dempsey chipped a pass to Zusi, whose slight touch freed Fabian Johnson on the left. The left-back's perfect pass found Altidore, who finished expertly at the far post with his left foot.

Feed the Jozy and he will score

— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) June 19, 2013

It wasn't always smooth for the U.S. With left-back DaMarcus Beasley suspended, manager Jurgen Klinsmann opted to move Fabian Johnson back from left midfield. Eddie Johnson slotted into the left side of midfield, with Graham Zusi reclaiming his spot on the right.

Honduras had much more serious selection headaches. Forward Jerry Bengtson, who scored the winner in Honduras' 2-1 qualifying victory over the U.S. in February, left the team after a dispute with manager Luis Fernando Suarez. Oscar Boniek Garcia and Maynor Figueroa were injured, while center-back Victor Bernardez and midfielder Luis Garrido were suspended.

But even with all those absences, Honduras presented an organized, effective resistance for more than 70 minutes. The U.S. dominated possession throughout the first half, but failed to move the ball effectively through the middle. Fabian Johnson posed a threat down the flank early in the match, but fell silent offensively midway through the half.

In his touchline interview before the start of the second half, Klinsmann called for a faster tempo and more passes to Altidore's feet. The U.S. produced both, and after a period of pressure, the breakthrough finally came.

In the end, the goal and the result were precisely what Klinsmann wanted, even if the performance wasn't. Even with the win, Klinsmann's team remains flawed. A full-strength Honduras might have punished the Americans' sloppiness, and despite the shutout, the defense had a few nervous moments.

But with World Cup qualification inching closer, Klinsmann appears to have the team heading in the right direction.