By: Charlie Ryan
The 2018 World Cup Qualifiers resumed last week with exciting clashes between Uruguay and Brazil, and Argentina and Chile, but none matched the thrill and thunderous statement made by the US Men’s National Team in their clobbering of Honduras. The USMNT grabbed their first points in their qualifying group, dubbed the “Hex,” but still sit a point off immediate qualification to third-place Panama.
US boss Bruce Arena deployed a 4-4-2 chock full of attackers to combat the defensiveness of the Honduran 5-4-1. Despite calling up Sacha Kljestan, Arena opted to pair Altidore with veteran striker Clint Dempsey, who had only just returned from an irregular heartbeat which sidelined him for eight months. The Americans got off to a blazing start after Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic through on goal, whose deflected shot was cleaned up by winger Sebastian Lletget for the first goal of the night. Several minutes after the goal, Lletget left the field after falling victim to a flagrant tackle and was replaced by Alejandro Bedoya, who provided needed defensive stability due to defender Geoff Cameron’s early yellow card. Michael Bradley, a rare goalscoring threat, added to the tally with a lovely curling effort across the face of goal from 20 yards. A mere five minutes later, Pulisic slipped in Dempsey who controlled the looped ball exquisitely off his chest and volleyed it in top-shelf despite being dragged down by defender Henry Figueroa.
Pulisic scored his first of the evening, slotting the ball past Escobar just twelve seconds into the second half, with Jozy Altidore providing the assist. Less than three minutes later, Dempsey skirted around the keeper for his second goal of the evening, courtesy of Pulisic’s perfectly-weighted through-ball. Dempsey completed his hat-trick with a swerving free-kick from 25 yards out five minutes later. The Americans went on to comfortably close out the second half, securing the clean sheet and vital three points.
Honduras is no soccer powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but for an American side that had only won one in its previous five, and facing mounting World Cup qualification pressure, the Americans delivered, and in emphatic fashion. Hershey, Pennsylvania native Christian Pulisic displayed his versatility in both the central midfield and on the wing with his excellent technique and eye for goal. Warhorse Clint Dempsey reaffirmed his starting role in the squad with a stunning hat trick: a half-volley, a 1 v. 1 with the keeper, and a free kick. Bruce Arena will undoubtedly be pleased with his team’s performance, though some issues will persist. On the defensive front, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, and DeAndre Yedlin are all out with injuries, and Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron showed a serious disconnect despite holding a clean sheet.
Friday’s resounding victory showcased a side of the USMNT not seen since their 4-0 victory over Costa Rica in the Copa America last summer. It was a side full of energy and confidence, power and grace, youth and experience. It was a side ready to take on the world. It was a side ready for Russia 2018.