The United States Men’s National Team hammered Honduras on Wednesday, 3-0, to move to the brink of qualifying for the World Cup held later this year.
The result is of little surprise because Honduras is terrible, ranked 76th in the world and winless in its past 14 matches.
It should have been a fun night for the Americans, who could have packed a big stadium somewhere, run up the score and gained valuable time together in conditions that might remotely be akin to November's World Cup in Qatar.
Instead US Soccer staged the game on a slick, frozen pitch in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was 2 degrees out. The stadium sat just 19,400.
It was an example of a small-time mindset within US Soccer, which too often plays with fear rather than confidence, which looks to protective gimmicks rather than bold attacks.
It’s the kind of strategy that — while successful — is cringeworthy and hard to defend for even the most passionate of fans.
Really, the Americans needed to freeze out the Hondurans to win? Shouldn’t this have been light work no matter where the game was played?
Historically, the American track record of success is poor. There is no debating that. In the past four World Cups, Team USA won a grand total of two games and never made it past the Round of 16. It didn’t even qualify last time.
Still, this is a young and promising team. Lots of talent. Lots of potential. Let the Americans play with some flair and some fun. Let them use the time against weaker opponents to create something special.
Let the Americans play like a program that has eyes on greatness, on making noise, on standing toe-to-toe with the best of the world, not slipping into qualifying by freezing out lousy opponents in a choppy, sloppy game.
“It’s not normal,” Honduras manager Herman Gomez said before the game. “It’s inconceivable that a power in every sense would bring you here to play a game and get a result.
“The game hasn’t started, but I can’t wait for it to end,” Gomez continued. “Because it’s not for enjoying, it’s for suffering.”
Look, making an opponent suffer and possibly mentally check out before the game is never a bad thing. But is it a necessary thing? Is there any pride at US Soccer?
Shouldn’t someone be a little ashamed that it thought it had to resort to this to win?
The conditions were bad for both sides. The Americans may have been “more” used to the cold than the Hondurans, but that was relative. The field didn’t lend itself to quality play. This was a slog. Everyone looked miserable and trying to avoid injury.
The US scored all three goals on set pieces, which is nice, but also indicative that this wasn’t the environment for run-of-play tallies. This was hardly soccer. At one point US coach Gregg Berhalter was taking pictures with fans.
Nothing was gained other than a victory that could have — should have — been earned in Southern California or Florida or at least in front of a big crowd.
Berhalter is said to want to limit travel. Since the Americans played Sunday against Canada in Hamilton, Ontario, this was deemed ideal.
But that’s ridiculous. It takes about 2:45 to fly from Toronto to Minneapolis … and about 3 hours to get to Orlando.
This is the US though. It wants bad conditions. It wants tiny stadiums so it can keep visiting fans out. It wants to play as far as possible from where immigrants of opposing teams reside, hence a disproportionate amount of games in the Midwest and few if any on the East Coast.
Everything is about protecting and pampering, like the American players can’t take on even Honduras in 70-degree air or with a few opposing fans present and chanting for their side.
Better to just play an ugly, mucked-up game before a small crowd in the freeze of Minnesota.
Hey, it was a win. The US is one step closer to qualifying for Qatar. It just felt a little weak.