USMNT: USA punches ticket to World Cup with 1-1 draw against Honduras

The United States entered Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match in Honduras tied for third place of their six-team group; an unenviable an unacceptable position for a nation of 330 million, albeit not a damning one thanks to the forgiving nature of the Hex.

After a disappointing loss to Costa Rica, coach Bruce Arena made seven changes to the starting lineup; only Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Michael Bradley, and Graham Zusi escaped the hook.

34-year-old Clint Dempsey, a grizzled veteran who’s made a career of not taking any sh-t on the field, got the start with imposing forward Jozy Altidore suspended after receiving a questionable yellow card at the end of the Costa Rica game. When you go into enemy territory, you need a general who’s going to lead his army from the front; who’s going to set the tone physically and mentally.

You can’t teach grit; you can’t coach nastiness, and Dempsey has that chip on his shoulder that the United States needs if they’re going to contend on the world stage. Pulisic is undeniably the most promising talent the United States has ever produced, but at 5’8, 140 lbs, and just 18 years old, he hasn’t accrued the requisite sauce or salt to be The Man just yet. He needs a big bruh in Clint Dempsey to make sure nobody on the other team gets too familiar.

Honduras seized the lead with a goal in the 27th minute on a perfectly weighted pass that split US defenders Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez.

For the rest of the first half, momentum swung decidedly in Honduras’ favor, with the only bright spots for the US coming from nuggets of near-brilliance Pulisic conjured from thin air, or rather thick air, as the hot, humid conditions on the pitch weighed on the US side like Thanksgiving dinner.

Bruce Arena pulled both starting outside backs, DeMarcus Beasley (who had picked up a yellow card) and Graham Zusi (who hadn’t played well and been wobbled by a head-to-head collision) about 60 minutes into the contest; evidence that the “game plan” the US had was woefully ineffective — if the scoreline wasn’t a clear enough bellwether. A few minutes later, Bobby Wood came on for Darlington Nagbe; a move that proved to be Bruce Arena’s savviest of the night.

It looked like the US was headed for a 1-nil defeat until a well-struck Kellen Acosta free kick forced a save that Geoff Cameron headed back to Jordan Morris, who flicked it on on to Bobby Wood, who found the back of the net in the most important goal of his young international career.

The forgiving nature of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying — three out of six teams earning automatic World Cup bids with the fourth-place team fighting the fifth-place Asian team (likely Syria or Australia) for wild card berth — meant that a loss wouldn’t have eliminated the US from contention, but a win means that, barring catastrophe, the United States is going to Russia next year.

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