SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- You'd be forgiven for thinking you had traveled in a time warp back to the 1980s for the U.S.' big World Cup qualifier against Honduras here on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, closed-circuit TV in
After all, the only way you can watch the game in the U.S. is via closed-circuit, a throwback to the days when you had to schlep to a theater to see heavyweight title fights. We're also in the middle of an old-school Central American political crisis here in Honduras, a country with two presidents locked in a post-coup standoff. And from a soccer perspective, Honduras is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1982.
I'm half-expecting to see
So you'd be right if you thought that tensions might be high in advance of the game. As my cab driver
Despite all the complications, the stakes are relatively simple for Game 9 of this 10-game World Cup qualifying tournament. With a victory, the U.S. will clinch a berth in the 2010 World Cup. As for Honduras, a win (and beneficial results elsewhere) could put the
That's why we could be in for a barn-burner of a game, the kind of back-and-forth, high-scoring shootout that we'd be talking about for years. "We know it won't be easy," U.S. forward
Why, even U.S. coach
Both teams will be missing important players. Midfielder
For its part, Honduras will be without midfielders
Indeed, this Honduran team is being hailed as perhaps the best
"They're a little bit different than other countries in Central America," Donovan said. "They're not as technical as some of the other teams, but they're physically more gifted. They're stronger, they're faster, they play more direct. So it's going to be a good matchup, because that's similar to how we play, too."
Throw in the usual challenges of playing a road World Cup qualifier in Central America, and the U.S. has its work cut out to beat Honduras, which is 8-0-0 with a 23-3 goal differential in 2010 World Cup qualifiers at home.
"I don't want to say it's not soccer, because of course it is," Bradley continued. "But it's something completely different. It's two teams that go on the field and just fight like hell to impose their will on each other. And in the end, who wins is who does that better. That means so many things -- the field, the crowd, the weather, the referee -- on top of the things that go into a normal game. How sharp are you? How many guys do you have playing well?"
From a psychological perspective, Honduras knows that it really needs a win in its final home game to avoid a November playoff against the fifth-place team from South America (perhaps Argentina or Ecuador). At the same time, the U.S. players know in the backs of their minds that they can lose here and still clinch a World Cup berth with at least a tie at home on Oct. 14 against Costa Rica.
But while Honduras will be the favorite at home on Saturday, keep in mind that the
Still, the U.S. needs to overcome its own hurdles when it comes to playing in Central America. It's no coincidence that the Yanks' two worst performances in this World Cup qualifying round have taken place in El Salvador (a 2-2 tie) and in Costa Rica (an ugly 3-1 loss).
"You're not sure what kind of U.S. team you're going to get when you travel to Honduras or El Salvador or Costa Rica," former U.S. captain
Perhaps. In the end, the goal of World Cup qualifying is to qualify, and style points don't count. Yet even Altidore is aware that the Americans tend to play to the level of their competition, for good and for bad.
"A lot of the guys feel like we haven't been at our best since the summer," Altidore said. "We've played good football, but at the same time, how we played last summer is different from how we're playing now. But it's natural to go through those ups and downs, and we're still getting the job done. That's the most important thing."
If all goes well for the Americans, the job will be complete by Saturday or, at the very least, by next Wednesday. Not many teams qualify for six consecutive World Cups. This is their chance to make it happen.