Tim Howard, defenders help U.S. shutout Honduras 1-0
The nine-point sweep is complete.
The U.S. men's national team certainly did not have its most enduring and complete performance on a sweltering night in Sandy, Utah, but they overcame a gritty and undermanned Honduras side to exact a bit of revenge on Los Catrachos. They also took care of business and collected another three points on the road to the 2014 World Cup with a 1-0 win Tuesday.
The win capped a five-game stretch that started with a question-raising loss to Belgium. Following a spirit-lifting friendly win over Germany and three meaningful triumphs over Jamaica, Panama and Honduras, though, the questions being asked of Jurgen Klinsmann's side are dissipating as the points continue to pile up.
With six of 10 games in the final World Cup qualifying round in the books, the U.S. sits atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal with 13 points in tow and a very favorable cushion to play with for the final stretch of qualifiers as the path to Brazil becomes more clear. Ten U.S. players will carry yellow cards into the next qualifier, which is not until Sept. 6 in Costa Rica, but until then the Americans can look down from their perch atop the Hex standings knowing their mission for the month has been achieved. Here are player ratings from Tuesday's match (as always, on a scale of 0-10):
GK, Tim Howard, 6.5 - The U.S. made sure Howard did not have the most active of nights, but he came up when called upon and also displayed a strong command of his area with the game winding down. Howard was truly called into action only toward the end of the first half, when former D.C. United homegrown star Andy Najar had a clean rip from the edge of the area Howard confidently parried away. Toward the end of the match, Howard was aggressive when necessary in coming off his line and never had a shaky moment.
D, Brad Evans, 5.5 - Evans's deep distribution was not so precise, but he held up defensively after being targeted repeatedly by Panama in the U.S.'s previous match. Evans also did his part in getting forward and he very nearly ended up with his second goal of the Hex with a clean header off a set piece that wound up being directed right at Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares.
D, Omar Gonzalez, 5 - Overall, Gonzalez had a decent night and he especially settled down in the second half. His awful giveaway that led to a Roger Espinoza breakaway in the first half was so unnecessary, though, and brought more questions regarding his decision making with the ball at his feet. Gonzalez also took a gamble by failing to close down more on Najar and his shooting lane, leaving Howard to have to come up big.
D, Matt Besler, 6.5 - Aside from one bad giveaway that led to Najar's chance, Besler was his normal steady self. His two most vital contributions came with the U.S. protecting its 1-0 lead. He just got his foot to a through ball that would have put Honduras substitute Marvin Chavez into the U.S. box unmarked. He also delivered a sliding clearance of a Najar cross that was headed to a dangerous area. The reigning MLS Defender of the Year keeps solidifying his place among the starters.
D, Fabian Johnson, 7 - Pushed back into a left back role with DaMarcus Beasley suspended, Johnson helped spark the U.S. by getting forward and delivering the decisive assist on the game-winning goal. In the first half, his great first-time cross from a deep position found Eddie Johnson in a great spot, only to have Valladares come up with a big save. Johnson never relented in getting forward as the game progressed and showed he can still be an option for Klinsmann in the long run should Beasley be hurt, suspended or suffer a dip in form.
M, Graham Zusi, 7 - Zusi's night started off below par (or at least compared to the lofty standard he continues to set), but his service improved as the match wore on. The U.S.'s most dangerous moments emanated in the second half through Zusi. He very nearly had an assist after setting up Clint Dempsey for a header in the center of the box. And even though he won't be credited with an assist, Zusi's dummy of Dempsey's through ball was a vital piece of the game-winning-goal sequence. The U.S. might have fared well without Zusi against Panama, but he made all the difference in the team snapping out of its doldrums against Honduras.
M, Jermaine Jones, 5.5 - Jones returned from a concussion to assume his place in central midfield alongside Michael Bradley and his night was one with mixed results. He was a bit too sporadic with his decision making, tackling and passing. Jones also became the 10th U.S. player to be sitting on a yellow card going forward, and while that's nothing new, this one was not entirely his fault. Jones was left with little option but to foul Espinoza from behind after Gonzalez's turnover gave him a direct path toward the U.S. box, but now he'll have to operate with more caution to avoid a suspension.
M, Michael Bradley, 6.5 - With Jones returning to the lineup, Bradley was not nearly as tenacious going forward as he was last Tuesday against Panama. He still turned in a solid shift and completed a team-high 74 passes, however, continuing to be the true link between the defense and the attack. Bradley was able to push forward and spray the ball wide on a few occasions, though, and he set up Dempsey for a golden chance while having a hand in starting the goal-scoring sequence as well. His long balls over the top did not maintain their typical accuracy (perhaps it was the field surface or altitude that played into that), but Bradley was still his typical professional self over the duration of the match.
M, Eddie Johnson, 5 - Johnson, given the start in midfield with Fabian Johnson pushed back to defense, had one of the best U.S. chances of the first half saved by Valladares, with his first-time effort off F. Johnson's cross being turned aside. E. Johnson endured mixed results after that, though, with his wide play leaving much to be desired and Klinsmann eventually having him swap sides with Zusi to seek a spark.
M, Clint Dempsey, 6.5 - Dempsey had about as many gilt-edged chances as one can have without putting one away, but for the third straight qualifying match he failed to find the back of the net. All of his best chances came with his head, including two golden opportunities in the first half. On one of them, he was completely unmarked and spotted by Bradley, only to mistime his jump and whiff on the connection. The unflappable Dempsey was undeterred, though, and he maintained his aggressive style, continued to press and delivered the through ball that led to Altidore's goal. It's shocking the U.S. was able to win three qualifiers without Dempsey scoring a goal in any of them, but hardly means Dempsey was not an influential character in the nine-point haul.
F, Jozy Altidore, 7 - Altidore shook off a frustrating first half in which his touches in the attacking third were scarce to score for the fourth straight game and deliver the game-breaking play that the U.S. desperately needed to walk away with all three points. After scoring his goal, Altidore maintained his hunger, linking up with substitute Geoff Cameron off a long ball and having a fierce rip Valladares palmed away. With goals in all three qualifying victories, it's safe to say Altidore has answered just about every question asked of him entering this stretch of games.
M, Brad Davis, 6 - Davis replaced Zusi in the 74th minute and maintained the wide threat for the U.S. in his time on the field while also being effective on set pieces. Davis also drew a foul in a dangerous spot while making a slick play to take down a pass, cut back on his defender and hold his run while bracing for content, showing why Klinsmann has no problem turning to him in a late-game situation.
M, Geoff Cameron, 6 - Cameron came on for Jones to help solidify the midfield and he fared well in his 16 minutes. Just like he did against Panama in serving a ball to Eddie Johnson, Cameron lofted a pinpoint ball for Altidore's insurance goal chance. He took care of the ball, passed well overall and also helped clog the center of the field for the home stretch.
M, Edgar Castillo, N/A - Castillo came on for the final minutes as the U.S. killed the clock. It's telling he did not get the start at left back in place of Beasley, a like-for-like move that would have kept Fabian Johnson in the midfield.