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United States-Honduras Preview: A must win home game for the USMNT

It’s seemingly a must win for Bruce Arena and the USMNT, but can a depleted squad pull out three points against Honduras?

Soccer: Gold Cup-USA vs Honduras Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The United States has zero points and sit in last place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann is out, Bruce Arena is in and the monumental task facing the USMNT now is Honduras.

Oh, and Bobby Wood isn’t walking through that door, Fabian Johnson isn’t walking through that door, DeAndre Yedlin isn’t walking through that door...

So yeah, things are going well for the US qualifying campaign and if we’re being honest, today is a must win game for the Americans. Dropping more points at home during The Hex would force the US to not just settle for draws on the road in future games, but rather they’d have to chase wins. One does not simply go on the road in CONCACAF and return with points.

And so the USA will have to find a way to win today, and likely get a positive result on Tuesday in Panama, without their most in-form striker and both starting fullbacks. There are replacements and tactical solutions to solve these injuries but which make the most sense?

UNITED STATES FORMATION

I know the USMNT has been doing very well recently in a 4-4-2. I like the 4-4-2, I think it will be the formation they use going forward whether it’s flat or a diamond doesn’t matter to me.

However...I think we’ll see the 4-2-3-1 today and possibly against Panama.

The reason for this is the missing fullbacks. Johnson and Yedlin are more than capable of not just supporting the attack but creating chances out wide on the overlap. With guys like Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream, DaMarcus Beasley and Graham Zusi in the mix to start at outside back, the fullback position will be more defense first in theory.

Zusi is a proven box to box player and Cameron is good at soccer so there’s a good chance that the US will lean on building up from the right side to get Cameron or Zusi involved and take the pressure off the opposite flank.

Off the bench is where Arena might be able to leave a few of his more offensive minded fullbacks in Beasley and Jorge Villafana. If the US is having problems getting their fullbacks involved or are chasing the game, I’d rather have the attackers available late.

The other issue is who plays in the #10 role for the US. Sacha Kljestan has filled this role recently but Clint Dempsey is back healthy and might get a start as well. That leaves the extra holding midfielder next to Michael Bradley as the last question mark in the formation. Jermaine Jones is suspended on yellow card accumulation which leaves veteran Dax McCarty and FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta as likely candidates next to Bradley.

PROJECTED USMNT LINEUP

Tim Howard; Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron; Dax McCarty, Michael Bradley; Christian Pulisic, Sacha Kljestan, Darlington Nagbe; Jozy Altidore

Okay, here’s my logic. With Cameron as the seemingly best option at right back, I want Nagbe in front of him so he has a little more freedom to go inside a bit and wreak havoc. I don’t mind Pulisic off on his own cause he’s probably the best pure creator right now and I don’t mind if his individual aggressiveness leads to some turnovers. I want him taking people on in 1-on-1 situations because when he wins them it’s a huge advantage for the US and he’ll create for either himself, or more likely, someone else with a cross or pass from the wing.

Defensively this is the best four man front I can come up with. Ream will be mostly stay at home on the left side but if Beasley starts there I won’t be upset. Omar and Besler finally get their Gold Cup 2013 reunion tour on and Cameron goes to right back because I want him on the field but not at holding mid.

The reason Cameron stays in defense is the US has good options in midfield and just okay options in defense. Michael Orozco can be solid if unspectacular, John Brooks might be carrying an injury and Villafana and Walker Zimmerman are good players but inexperienced on the international level currently.

HONDURAS OVERVIEW

It was a mixed bag for Los Catratchos in the first qualifying games last year. They lost 1-0 to Panama and beat Trinidad and Tobago 3-1 but played both games at home. Dropping points to Panama, let alone losing, is extra tough because those two teams are the most likely candidates for the playoff spot by finishing fourth in the qualifying stage.

Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, the man who helped guide Costa Rica to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014, took over for Honduras back in 2015. It was initially a dismal stretch for the country, who lost all three games at the World Cup then had to beat French Guiana in a playoff to make the 2015 Gold Cup where they finished last in their group and failed to make the knockout stages.

However, Honduras’ 2017 calendar year is very strong thanks to a dominant showing in the 2017 Copa Centroamericana where they went 4-0-1 to win the round-robin competition with thirteen points. A 2-0 friendly win over Nicaragua last week put them back on track after two friendly losses back in February to Jamaica and Ecuador.

Honduras is not short on attacking talent but most of their formations tend to lean to more defensive orientated. Honduras could play a basic 4-4-2 or even a five-man back line with wingbacks and be just as effective on both sides of the ball. Erick Andino in particular has been in solid form, as the midfielder already has four goals already in 2017 for his country. It would make sense for Honduras to play more defensively in this game being on the road, so the initial lineup from Pinto will be very telling. There’s a lot of ways Honduras can set up and they’ll be especially dangerous on the counter.

MLS regulars like Romell Quito, Alberth Ellis, Boniek Garcia and Maynor Figeroua are also on the Honduras roster as well as former DC United homegrown Andy Najar. Sadly, Jerry Bengston did not get a call up.

MATCH OVERVIEW

This is a big game for both teams. It’s a virtual must win for the USA but a result from Honduras would put them in fantastic shape for another World Cup as well. Any road result in CONCACAF should be cherished, especially those earned against the USA and Mexico. El Tri remembers all to well struggling at home during their 2014 WCQ run and subsequent playoff berth against New Zealand.

The US doesn’t have to get this result by playing “attractive soccer” and I believe they’ll win this game by doing the opposite. They’re going to outwork Honduras for ninety minutes, bungle home a rebound and win 1-0. That’s all they care about, there’s no style points right now, not when you’re in last place in The Hex.

The United States and Honduras will kickoff very, very late this evening near 11pm Eastern on FS1 and UniMas.