Gold Cup

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Texas-sized test threatens USA run

FOX Soccer News: Preview of USA's semifinal match against Honduras.
FOX Soccer News: Preview of USA's semifinal match against Honduras.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS

When he left US Congress in 1835, Davey Crockett put it rather memorably, telling his constituents: “You all can go to hell, and I shall go to Texas.”

The United States men’s national team has also headed west for a big Texan showdown, although it doesn’t quite face a fight to the death the way Crockett did at the Battle of the Alamo. Rather than another battle with Mexico, the Americans face Honduras (live, FOX Soccer, Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET) for a third time this year. At stake is a place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final and the venue is every bit as noteworthy as the Alamo, albeit for entirely different reasons.

One of the grandest and most expensive sports venues in the world – one that will inflict a hard and bumpy sod-over-turf field full of patches and gashes on the USA – Cowboys Stadium seats 80,000 and cost some $1.3 billion to build. It is a structural marvel, with 300 feet-tall arches spanning the length of the stadium and supporting the entirety of the retractable roof. The big screen below it is among the biggest in the world.

But the Americans had better not get distracted by their surroundings. They’ve had a relatively easy time of it so far this tournament. They dispatched Belize ( 6-1) and Cuba ( 4-1) simply, encountered slightly more resistance from Costa Rica but won 1-0 and trampled El Salvador 5-1 in the quarterfinals. In so doing, they have run their winning streak to a best-ever nine, eclipsing the seven games they won consecutively in 2007, when American hands last hoisted the Gold Cup.

Honduras, however, promises a challenge of a different magnitude. Theirs is a talented and well-drilled side, which boasts such dynamic attackers as Marvin Chavez, Mario Martinez and boy wonder Andy Najar, who walked into the United States through the desert just seven years ago. It was Najar’s lone goal that lifted the Catrachos over Costa Rica in the prior round.

LOOKING AHEAD

Scroll through the best images from 2013's Gold Cup quarterfinal stage.

An Honduran team not so different from this one was the only opponent to beat the USA in a competitive game this year, taking a World Cup qualifier 2-1 in the soupy air of San Pedro Sula back in February. Nobody but Belgium in a May friendly has beaten the Americans since: that includes Honduras itself, which fell 1-0 in the World Cup qualifying re-match in Salt Lake City back in June. But this team, more than any the Americans have faced so far this tournament, has the capacity to unsettle them with its quick transitions and exchanges.

“Honduras is a very, very tough team because of the way they compete, the way they’re compact on the field both ways” said US manager Jurgen Klinsmann. “We expect a very, very difficult battle. We’ve met them already twice this year and they were both very, very tight games. We are ready for another tight match.”

“They’re a little atypical for Central American countries in that they’re a little more physical,” said star forward Landon Donovan. “They’re more athletic generally so that matches up a little better against us.”

But the US has seldom known a run of form quite like the one it’s on now. For more than 18 months, Klinsmann’s high pressure, zippy ball circulation and attack-minded approach were elusive. The program appeared all but rudderless, mostly drifting incongruously between acceptable and disheartening performances.

The United States hopes to add to their winning streak at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night (Photo:  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).

Since the spring, however, the Americans have made a habit of outplaying teams, posting one authoritative win after another – their scoring record during this streak is 31-7. It’s 27-4 over the last eight games. More than three goals scored per game, in other words, with a goal conceded every other game.

“I’ve never been part of a run like this,” said Donovan. “It’s a lot of fun. Not only the goals but we’re creating lots of chances and that’s enjoyable. But as we get to this stage of the tournament, it’s likely going to be one goal or two goals that make the difference so we have to be really clean with our chances.”

HISTORY BOOKS

Take a trip back through time and discover all the previous Gold Cup winning teams.

Up front, Chris Wondolowski has finally started translating his club goalscoring form to the national team, getting five this tournament. Donovan has dazzled like the Landon of old, booking three goals and six assists in four games. And in central midfield, Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud has justified the excitement about him while Stu Holden has resuscitated his USA career by proving his injuries are finally behind him. Adding Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, the A-team defensive pairing, has solidified the central defense.

Honduras will likely bunker in and prey on the counter-attack, the way every opponent of the Americans has this tournament. “We expect a Honduras team that’s very compact, very well organized, very disciplined, making life as difficult as possible for us,” said Klinsmann. “But at the end of the game, it’s a knockout game. The beauty of knockout games is sooner or later somebody has to do something.”

Klinsmann has been unambiguous about his expectations for this tournament. “The Gold Cup is only successful if we win it,” he said a few days back. But to do that, you have to get through the semifinals first. And that means getting past a dogged Honduras, which is invariably a Texas-sized struggle.

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