It's a new year of meaningful matches, yet the story remains the same for the US Men's National Team. A lack of creativity in the midfield coupled with sloppy play in the back line was again their undoing, this time in a World Cup qualifier at Honduras. Winning Wednesday's match, the first WC qualifier of 2013 for the Americans, was never going to be easy. I'm willing to concede that point, but it's a point that doesn't change the fact that the effort and execution fans saw from the USMNT yesterday won't cut it in future games.
A World Cup berth is not a right or a gimme for the US.
Honduras 2-1 United States: The back line
It's possible, perhaps likely, that Carlos Bocanegra will not play in another World Cup. That's fine and all, but Wednesday's match offered proof that the US are going to need their captain back in the lineup starting in March if they are going to qualify for that competition. The American defense lacked a true leader out on the field from the opening minute of play when a silly mistake gave Honduras an opportunity to jump out in front, and both CBs had days to forget. Geoff Cameron was simply not big enough and not brave enough in both instances that resulted in the hosts finding the back of the net, and Omar Gonzalez was either caught blindsided or caught napping when he missed Jerry Bengtson rush into the penalty area to tap in a rebound that proved to be the match-winner. Add all of that along with Timmy Chandler playing as if his heart and mind were still overseas and also Fabian Johnson doing his teammates no favors, and you've got a recipe for a loss.
Honduras 2-1 United States: The midfield
The best distribution for the USMNT on Wednesday came from Jermaine Jones. With all due respect to Mr. Jones, that's never good. I understand what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was trying to achieve by starting Jozy Altidore along with Eddie Johnson. I just don't think playing Johnson out of position is a long-term solution, especially considering that there's nobody in such a lineup who is able to provide quality crosses to the two target men. The first fix that enters my mind would be to swap Graham Zusi for Johnson, thus creating a lineup that would, in theory, have two play-makers (Zusi and Michael Bradley) in the starting XI and two true scorers (Johnson and Herculez Gomez) as second half options. There are obviously other formation options to consider, as well, but Altidore working up top with a partner while the US have some fluidity in the midfield seems to be the best scenario for everybody involved.
Honduras 2-1 United States: Klinsmann
Nobody representing US Soccer on the pitch on Wednesday had a banner day, and that includes the team's head coach. Klinsmann's first-choice lineup was already touched upon in the previous section, and there's no reason to revisit that topic. It's here that I want to concentrate on his utilizing all three of his subs before the 70th minute despite not a single one of his starters going down to injury. I'm not interested in hearing about excuses regarding the conditions affecting the fitness of the US players. It is a coach's job to make sure that a majority of his starters, barring injuries that occur during the game, can go over an hour without nearly collapsing on the field. That wasn't the case on Wednesday, and the US were clearly gassed out when there were over 20 minutes left in normal time.
Honduras 2-1 United States: Final words
Nobody panic. That, above everything else, is what US Soccer fans should do well to remember following what occurred on Wednesday. There are still plenty of matches to be played, and the United States losing at Honduras was always a possibility once the schedule was released. Klinsmann and company now have over a month to figure things out before qualifiers against Costa Rica and at Mexico.
Put the time to good use, guys.