The Americans again fell behind at home, but in the end the United States were clearly the better side and got the needed and deserved three points. But the US allowed things to remain interesting until the end, though that was partially due to a truly baffling referee's decision.
With Onyewu out due to yellow cards and Demerit out due to injury, it was a makeshift back four yesterday with Chad Marshall and Bocanegra starting centrally and Bornstein and Spector on the wings. It was at best a mixed bag in the back. Neither Spector nor Bornstein impressed. Anytime Bornstein is in there, I'm afraid. As if to prove my point, Bornstein's truly awful clearance back into the middle of the field set up the Hondruas goal. Clearances were a problem for the whole match. On the goal, Howard looked to be anticipating the ball getting through to the back post, and will probably feel he could have done better in his positioning.
The "mixed bag" phrase certainly applies to the performance of Clint Dempsey as well. Dempsey scored the first goal when Honduras attempted to run an offside trap. While most of the team was offside, Dempsey was rightfully ruled on and headed the ball into the net. Dempsey also had a gorgeous through-ball to Altidore for the third goal...er, what? No goal? Altidore buried in the back of the net, but the referee disallowed it, apparently for a foul on Dempsey for having won the ball and having an opposing player who didn't get near the ball fall over him. One of the worst decisions I've ever seen. If El Salvador had managed a draw, I'm sure Bradley and US Soccer would have a lot more to say about that call.
On the down side for Dempsey, he probably should have had a hat trick. He missed a free header from six yards that he bounced up over the bar. And after a wonderful long run he had a free strike from eighteen yards and hit it directly (and meekly) at the keeper. Either of those strikes would have provided some needed breathing space in the 3-1, um, 2-1 victory.
Altidore again impressed with his clinical finishing on his header at the end of the first half to give the United States the lead, as well as on the goal that was disallowed. Watching Altidore play was yet another reminder how inexplicable it was that he wasn't in the starting lineup against Mexico. But I digress. Donovan also had a good game as a creator, providing service on Altidore's goal and playing quite a few other very dangerous balls. Frankly, between the goal that was disallowed, Dempsey's chances, and the header from substitute Torres that forced a terrific save from the Honduran keeper, the game should have finished much more comfortably.
The Americans aren't out of the woods in terms of must-win matches, as Wednesday's clash with Trinidad and Tobago also falls in that category. A road win wouldn't see them through to South Africa just yet, but would put them in a very good position. Currently, Honduras and the US sit with 13 points, with Mexico and Costa Rica at 12. Mexico's 3-0 victory in Costa Rica announces the return to form of El Tri, and Mexico is probably one more victory away from being beyond peril. If Mexico defeats Honduras on Wednesday the Mexicans will be practically, if not mathematically, qualified due to their easy remaining schedule. The Americans would then have a chance to ensure their spot in South Africa with a win in Honduras on October 10th, which would thankfully take any meaning out of the last match against Costa Rica. Winning in Honduras will be no easy task though as no one in the group has managed even a point in Honduras, and most of those matches have not been close. If Mexico does beat Honduras, even a draw in Honduras would be enough to put the US in the catbird's seat for qualification. But first things first - the Americans must win Wednesday.