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  • The U.S. men's national team got a late equalizer from Bobby Wood to change its World Cup qualifying fortunes in a major way after an important draw vs. Honduras.
By Grant Wahl
September 05, 2017

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The U.S. men’s national team got a giant late equalizer from Bobby Wood to avoid a catastrophic loss and seize a lifeline to World Cup 2018 with a 1-1 tie against Honduras on Tuesday. Just when it seemed that the U.S. was on its way to gut-punch loss, Wood followed a mad scramble in front of the Honduran goal to pound home the finish.

Had the U.S. lost, it would have faced must-win situations in its final two qualifying games just to have a chance of reaching the World Cup. Now a win at home against Panama and at least a tie on the road at Trinidad and Tobago next month should be enough for the U.S. to finish third in the CONCACAF Hexagonal and receive the automatic berth that comes with it.

But given the subpar performances this week, the U.S. would be smart not to count on anything in the next two games. Wood’s late goal won’t paper over the fact that this U.S. team has struggled in World Cup qualifying more than at any time since 1989.

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Honduran winger Romell Quioto burst through a slow-to-react U.S. defense in the 27th minute and fired a screamer off the right post into the net. Once again, the U.S. created few goal-scoring chances and had trouble producing in the attacking end when it mattered. Only Wood’s goal kept it from becoming a week for the U.S. that was literally pointless.

Once again, too, it was hard to pick out any U.S. players who had a good game. The Americans were slow to react, late to 50-50 balls and lacking in an immediate spirited response to going down a goal. But coach Bruce Arena went for broke with his subs, switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-2-4-1 late and sending on Wood, who provided the precious goal.

The U.S. tie kept it tied with Honduras on points with nine, although the U.S. is ahead with a much better goal difference. Panama made good on its golden chance to leapfrog the U.S. and Honduras into third place (with 10 points) with a 3-0 victory at home against Trinidad and Tobago later on Tuesday night. The third-place team will qualify automatically for the World Cup. The fourth-place team will go to a playoff against the Asian fifth-place team (either Australia or Syria) for a spot in Russia 2018. The fifth-place team will be eliminated altogether.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

A point is a hell of a lot better than zero points

It’s all about survival now for this U.S. team, and snatching a point makes a huge difference, not least because it kept Honduras from seizing three points on the day. Yes, it’s ridiculous that the U.S. is even in this position. Heading into this game, Honduras’s only wins in the entire tournament have come against bottom-feeder Trinidad and Tobago. This is the worst Honduras team in years, not nearly as good as the ones that qualified for the last two World Cups. And the U.S. destroyed these guys 6-0 in March. But the insanely forgiving CONCACAF qualifying tournament means that the U.S. is still in a pretty good position to qualify for Russia despite having won only two of eight games in the Hexagonal. Remember, Mexico won just two of 10 Hex games in 2013 and still managed to qualify for the World Cup.

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The U.S. defense totally broke down on the Honduras goal

Not putting any pressure on the passer, Alexander López, was defensive malpractice, allowing López to have time and space to pick out a pinpoint pass into the box between Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez to Quioto. Gonzalez was slow to react and went to ground in a vain attempt at the ball, which Quioto knew exactly what to do with once he had possession. With Matt Besler unable to step over and cover in time, Quioto gathered himself and banged a clinical shot past Brad Guzan. It was a terrific play by Quioto, the young Houston Dynamo attacker, but the goal wouldn’t have happened without a series of breakdowns by the U.S. defense. Similar breakdowns–albeit by different players–cost the USA against Costa Rica Friday at Red Bull Arena, too. 

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Arena deserves serious questioning of his choices

Arena made seven changes in his lineup after Friday’s loss. Some of them made sense, but the biggest head-scratcher was benching Geoff Cameron. The big center back had a rare bad game on Friday, but Cameron is by far the best organizer of the U.S. back line, and the U.S. central defensive performance would have been better on Tuesday had Cameron been on from the start. The game changed, though, once Arena brought on subs Cameron, Paul Arriola and Wood, and the U.S. pressure increased into the final minutes of the game.

It was hardly pretty, but the U.S. will take the point and be glad that disaster was averted—for now.

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