USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers recaps the World Cup qualifying match between the U.S. and Honduras.
USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE — Clint Dempsey marked his national team return with a spectacular hat-trick, Christian Pulisic continued to justify the hype, Bruce Arena made the most perfect start — or restart — imaginable, the United States smacked six answered goals past a bewildered Honduras and suddenly all seemed well again with American soccer.
Over the course of 90 punishing minutes at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. put a good old fashioned beatdown on its CONCACAF regional rival and, as each strike bulged the back of the Honduras net, all talk of crisis on the road to next year’s World Cup in Russia seemed more and more ridiculous.
For this was an unrecognizable version of the national team compared to the timid and listless group that dug itself into a hole by losing its opening two matches in the final qualifying round and got Jurgen Klinsmann sacked in the process.
Soccer is a game that has a habit of tripping up those who make hasty predictions based on small sample sizes, so let’s go ahead and make one anyway. The U.S. isn’t going to miss out on the World Cup and it isn’t going to be a struggle.
A few months from now those early blips and Klinsmann’s reign will be a distant memory, a footnote in a story that will ultimately be judged on how in all ends at the World Cup itself. For the big teams in this region, like the U.S., Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Costa Rica, it needs a heck of a lot to go wrong to create a situation where failing to qualify becoming a legitimate possibility, and a couple of things to go right, at the right time, to fix it.
This was the right thing, a swashbuckling dissection of a team in Honduras that may have been outclassed here, but is no weaker than Trinidad and Tobago or Panama. As long as the Americans finish ahead of those three, U.S. fans will be sipping vodka and maybe buying Donald Trump matryoshka dolls (yes, they exist there) in Red Square next summer.
Perhaps it was as simple as getting in the right man, or getting him back. Bruce Arena is pragmatic to the extreme and cares little for flash and flavor unless it actively impacts the chances of winning. He briefly smiled for moment in his post-game press conference, cracked half a joke, but also claimed the team got a little sloppy after the sixth goal went in and was serious when he said it.
He’s that kind of guy, and it is exactly the right kind of mentality that the program needed in a time of trouble. The funny thing is, that the trouble now seems to have been instantly averted so he might have to find a new way of convincing his players their backs are still against the wall.
Dempsey showed how and why he is still one of the finest players the U.S. has ever had to call upon with a trio of goals on his national team return following a layoff imposed by an irregular heartbeat.
Pulisic has the carefree nature of an 18-year-old, albeit one with the world at his feet. This was a glimpse of what soccer in this country hopes is a brighter future where it has a world-class player marshaling its attacking intentions. He is not quite there yet, but the portents are good.
They are good all round. How can it be that this was essentially the same core group of players that were outplayed by Mexico and crushed in Costa Rica back in November?
The answer is because soccer players have short memories and an ability to forget past disappointment if a new situation, a new system, a new guy appeals to their, motivational spirit.
If things continue like this, the American soccer public will soon forget too, that is the nature of these things, despite whatever effort or longevity or thought has been put in over previous time periods.
Fair or not, on this night you could already hear the question – “Jurgen who?”