Goals from Clarence Goodson and Kenny Cooper led the USA to a 2-0 win over Honduras and a berth in the Gold Cup finals Thursday night at Soldier Field.
It was the third straight win for the USA over the Central American side in the space of barely two months, and second win in the Gold Cup itself. The Americans will face bitter rivals Mexico yet again in Sunday’s final after El Tri defeated Costa Rica in a thrilling penalty kick shootout.
It was not an attractive win, but, it was a solid effort, and perhaps the best performance by the USA “C” team so far. The USA outpassed and outworked a Honduran side that rarely looked capable of scoring. And despite missing Jimmy Conrad (concussion), the American defense never wavered, closing down space and Honduran striker Carlos Costly.
Yet, this one was not going to win any prizes for artistic merit. Brian Ching and Kyle Beckerman both had off nights, muffing passes and failing to trap cleanly, while Jay Heaps lumbered around the back line. The most elegant performer was the goalkeeper, Troy Perkins, whose last-gasp denial of Costly iced the game.
Goodson’s goal broke what had been a still match into life in the 45th minute. Beating Costly off a Stuart Holden corner kick, the Norway-based defender snapped it past Denis Escobar with a taut header. Cooper’s goal, in the final minute of play, could have been offside, but no matter, as he finished a liner from Holden well with a deft touch.
The Americans deserved both goals, just rewards for controlling the field and the flow of play. And Goodson’s opener helped kick off a dynamic second half start for the USA that saw them pressure Escobar three times in the first four minute.
But aside from that, there really is little to note. The Hondurans were not expected to win, and they didn’t. If the USA faces Mexico, the same will hold true — after all, Mexico hasn’t won a game on American soil since 1999.
And yet that predictability is a fairly recent development. The Americans never used to be the favorites, nor did they used to come out and attack. Now, even the third string feels comfortable enough to harass a middling CONCACAF power.
Key man for the night was Stuart Holden. No, it was not a virtuoso performance, but his two assists led the team and his steadiness and distribution carried them. His performance has been the story of the entire Gold Cup, and he looks to be a player who could challenge for a starting spot as soon as August 12th should one of the regulars come up hurt. He is relaxed and confident, and unlike some of his teammates, willing to do the dirty work.
Still lagging badly are Logan Pause and Robbie Rogers. The former is invisible, while the latter is pedaling backward in a fine Floyd Landis impersonation. Part of it is confidence.
It is clear that Rogers is trying to do too much to cover up his errors — as a result, he holds the ball far too long and coughs it up when he gets boxed in. Pause is another story altogether — he doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what to do with the ball when he gets it.
USA vs. Honduras
Chad Marshall and Heaps, of course, are warhorses without a realistic hope of seeing the “A” team. Both men are hard and despite being slow, they are sensible. In 1990, they would have been heroes. Today, they are, well, what they are.
Martin Chavez and Walter Martinez both did their best to rattle Marshall and Heaps, to little effect. Martinez, bluntly, is too old, and tries to compensate for that by diving. Chavez needs the ball at his feet to do anything, but he fails to make himself available for it as often as he could (still, his shot on Perkins midway through of the first half was a real test).
Bottom line is that this was an easy night for the Americans, and a solid win. But once again, it tells fans little more than they already knew about the men who did it and the possibilities for the future. Of this group, Pearce and Holden look the fittest, and Perkins could take up some space on the bench. After that, there isn’t much. And yet, it is still enough. What does that say about the Gold Cup? Nothing good, I fear.
Sometimes, I think American soccer is cursed.
That first MLS Cup? Played in a raging downpour so ferocious TV viewers couldn’t see it. The great USA win over Brazil? Impossible to find on TV. And next month’s critical World Cup qualifier against hated rival Mexico in Mexico City? The English language version will be buried on an obscure Telemundo affiliate people didn’t even know existed.
How about the first perfect game in all of baseball in five years? Yes. It was thrown by White Sox ace Mark Buerhle in what, on any other afternoon, would have been a forgettable day game against the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s the White Sox of Chicago.
Have I also mentioned that the day was glorious until just before kickoff at Soldier … when hail began to fall? And that traffic was snarled because the President was in town? And that the President called to congratulate Buerhle but didn’t show for the national team game.
Oy vey …
Jamie Trecker’s newest book, “Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans and Freaks” is out now from Harcourt. Jamie is assisted by Jerry and Janice Trecker. Contact Jamie at email@example.com visit his blog and website at www.jamietrecker.com.
The views and opinions expressed by Jamie Trecker do not necessarily reflect those of the Fox Soccer Channel or FoxSoccer.com.