BOCA RATON, Fla – The U.S. national team settled for a 1-1 draw against Honduras on Tuesday night in Boca Raton after yielding a late goal that canceled out hometown hero Jozy Altidore’s opener.
After surrendering a late goal against Ecuador Friday night, the USA defense buckled again down the stretch, with Maynor Figueroa scoring off Mario Martinez's free kick to force the draw.
Here are three thoughts from FAU Stadium:
• An uplifting opener
If any two U.S. players needed a lift this week, it was Altidore and Michael Bradley. Altidore remains sidelined at Sunderland, where he’s started just two games this season. Bradley has endured a brutal stretch at Toronto FC and on Monday, had his choice to return to MLS questioned by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The form of both players has been subject to scrutiny and concern.
They certainly looked sharp in the 10th minute, when they combined to produce the only goal scored on a humid evening before 14,805 fans. The Americans came close to taking the lead a couple minutes earlier, but Altidore’s cross to Clint Dempsey was too far behind the U.S. captain, who was unable to put his weight behind the shot. But the precision on the goal was flawless.
Mix Diskerud won the ball in midfield to start the play and Dempsey then set Bradley free with a quick heel pass. Bradley lifted a perfect, curling ball over Honduran defender Victor Bernárdez, and Altidore, racing through on the left, knocked it down with his shoulder. The burly forward created space with a couple of touches and then hammered a shot back through Bernárdez and past the goalkeeper. It was Altidore’s 24th U.S. goal (tied for fifth all-time) and one he’ll likely remember, considering he hails from Boca Raton and had scored just once for club or country since departing for the World Cup.
The pair embraced in celebration. Both remain vital players, and both needed a boost. As Klinsmann said following the match: "The best medicine you can get as a striker is scoring goals ... Having him back scoring is huge for his confidence. It's good for us as well, and hopefully he takes that energy now back to the Premier League and gets a couple of goals there as well."
• Another frustrating finish
Four nights after yielding an 88th-minute equalizer to Ecuador in East Hartford, the U.S. failed once again to hold on to a lead in the dying moments. This time it was Honduran captain Figueroa who did the damage, reaching a free kick that sailed over Jermaine Jones (more on him below) and nodding a sharp header past goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 86th minute.
The U.S. was left to rue its failure to capitalize further on a good first half as much as it regretted the suspect marking on the goal. Honduras was slow to find its feet, and the American spacing and speed of play was superior for significant stretches. But Altidore’s goal was the only breakthrough as several promising attacks broke down in the offensive third, either through missed passes or heavy traps, and the hosts had trouble maintaining the momentum as Klinsmann brought out his starters. By the time Figueroa scored, Bradley and center back Matt Besler were on the bench.
It was only a friendly, but Klinsmann won’t be happy with losing a late lead in consecutive games.
• Klinsmann’s experimenting continues
Jones’ commitment to representing the U.S. has developed to the point where he’s willing to play center back. Remember, this was a player who a year ago seemed less than thrilled with a limited, defensive role in midfield. But if the 32-year-old is to remain a factor over the next four years, versatility will be critical and if there ever was an evening to give it a try, it was Tuesday.
Jones played the position on occasion at Schalke, but this was his first attempt in a U.S. shirt. The verdict was mixed. Playing alongside Besler, who is a good organizer and used to partnering with a more adventurous defender in Kansas City (Aurelien Collin), Jones looked comfortable and solid in the first half but faltered a couple times in the second.
He was pulled to the sideline and beaten by reserve forward Romell Quioto 1-on-1, was shown a yellow card for a hard (but probably necessary) foul and then was beaten on the free kick that resulted in the tying goal. For a maiden outing, however, it was adequate, and if moving to the back is what it takes to keep to keep Jones on the field long term, it’s worth a few more looks.
Klinsmann’s other intriguing lineup decision was playing Diskerud in a holding role behind Bradley. Considered an attacker at heart, Diskerud has been challenged by Klinsmann to improve his tackling and defending. The role he filled on Tuesday forced him to focus on it.
At the same time, his ball movement and passing precision were key to the U.S. attack and, for the most part, very good. Although Diskerud has inherited Landon Donovan’s No. 10 shirt, perhaps his future doesn’t match the playmaking role traditionally associated with the number. His ability to orchestrate the play from a much deeper position is promising.