COMMENTARY | They can't all be gems.
In fact, sometimes a team needs to learn lessons in winning ugly. Tuesday night's United States vs. Honduras World Cup Qualifier was gritty, chippy, and hardly a great advertisement for the sport of soccer. The US survived over 70 minutes of frustration caused by several factors before the man who has evolved into his nation's top goalscorer coolly tucked away one final tally of this current stretch of matches. Perceived to be an in-crisis side not all that long ago, Jurgen Klinsmann's army is, minus a complete meltdown and/or disaster, going to Brazil.
United States 1-0 Honduras: Jozy
The first half of Tuesday's match was a perfect summary of the struggles Jozy Altidore has had to overcome while playing for the US. His most memorable moment of the opening 45 minutes came when he nearly played Clint Dempsey through into the penalty area with a pass that unluckily connected with the heels of the Tottenham Hotspur man. When that is all you can recall about the play of a lone striker, his teammates are not doing enough for him.
Altidore's play off the ball throughout the second half was, for my money, just as impressive as were his two left-footed finishes that found the back of the net. Only one of those counted, however, as Dempsey unfortunately missed Altidore begin a perfectly timed run between two defenders and thus the 23-year old was clearly offside when he received the necessary ball in the box. Nevertheless, there's something to be said about a striker who buries his two best scoring opportunities of the match and does so with a "of course I was going to score here" swagger.
United States 1-0 Honduras: Fab
Multiple Americans earned themselves praise as the US completed their sweep of this run of qualifiers. Graham Zusi was again a midfield maestro, Matt Besler did well to put one regrettable moment out of mind and excel in central defense, and goalkeeper Tim Howard was flawless when called into action, a true presence in the box that he wasn't in the away match against Jamaica. One mustn't forget about Fabian Johnson, who is quickly becoming arguably the most valuable man in the US attack.
Fab's first-touch left-footed cross into the penalty area is my new favorite thing in all of US Soccer, a play that gives this team real width in the attacking third for the first time since the day before forever. It's now something that future opponents will have to plan to defend against, a fact that should, in theory, open up other areas of the pitch for the US to exploit. Don't look now, but this team is one more winger away from being able to produce scoring chances from just about every part of the pitch.
United States 1-0 Honduras: Job (not) done
The USMNT have, since June 7, been exactly what you would want to see out of a team that will be playing in meaningful knockout tournaments over the next two summers. They rallied back from a heartbreaking late goal and stunned Jamaica, they outclassed an over-matched Panama side and did so with some style, and they toughed it out against Honduras in a game in which a draw would have been a fine result for both teams. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup is nearly a mathematical certainty.
It's now on Klinsmann to up the ante. Anything shy of earning a berth to next summer's party in Brazil would have meant a restart for the US Men, including a new coach and a new direction. Now that phase one of this process is essentially finished, Klinsmann and company must keep this squad focused by presenting a new must-reach goal of winning the group. No team in the region is clicking as are the US at the start of summer.
It's a shame these qualifiers have to make way for the Gold Cup.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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