The U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa in dramatic fashion with a 3-2 win against Honduras with five goals scored and a penalty missed by Honduras in a heart-stopping second half.
More than 45,000 Honduran supporters rocked Estadio Olímpico in San Pedro Sula, uniting behind their national team despite the domestic political strife dominating international headlines. After a scoreless first half that saw both teams shooting off-target, the second half turned into an instant classic with the U.S. getting the deciding goal in the 71st minute from a free kick by midfielder Landon Donovan.
Forward Conor Casey provided the heroics for the U.S., scoring the first two goals of his international career in the 55th and 66th minutes, and setting up the Donovan freekick. It was Casey’s third appearance in the 2010 qualifying cycle, and the 15th of his career.
The Honduras faithful thought their side would draw even in the 87th minute when the referee awarded a penalty kick in their favor. Carlos Pavon, the all-time leading scorer for Honduras with 55 career goals, shockingly blasted his penalty over the crossbar. Despite the misfortune, the Honduran crowd showed their class by offering the U.S. team a warm ovation following the match.
The U.S. team returns from Honduras to face Costa Rica at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. with first place in CONCACAF qualifying on the line.
“This was the most important game in qualifying because it was the one that qualified us for South Africa 2010,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. “The celebration was a very good one because when you have a group that has come together, that has worked hard, that has grown, when they’ve accomplished something it’s a special feeling. Tonight we can all share that feeling.”
After Honduras got things started with a handful of shots in the first few minutes of the game, the U.S. had the first dangerous opportunity in the 18th minute on a second consecutive corner kick by Donovan. His in-swinger from the left side bounced once in the middle of the penalty area and skipped to an unmarked Carlos Bocanegra. The bounce was too high for Bocanegra to get on top of and he headed the chance over the crossbar.
Eleven minutes later, Carlo Costly perfectly timed his run to beat the U.S. to a clearance over the heads of the U.S. back line. As he dribbled toward goal, he scuffed his shot just inches wide of Tim Howard’s right post.
Back the other way, the U.S. had their best chance to score of the half. Casey held the ball just across midfield on the right side and sent Stuart Holden, who was making his first World Cup qualifying start, free down the line. With plenty of time, Holden sent a pinpoint cross to Davies, whose header from eight yards was saved by Noel Valladares reaching back across his body. The rebound came right back to Davies, but he hit his follow-up effort above the crossbar.
After a scoreless first half, the complexion of the game changed completely just 20 seconds into the second half. U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu fell and made a clumsy foul that set up a Honduras freekick just a yard outside of the U.S. penalty area. Julio Cesar de Leon took a one-step approach on his right-footed shot that curled over the U.S. wall and under the cross bar, just out of the reach of Howard in the 47th minute.
The U.S. answered eight minutes later with Onyewu getting involved in the goal. The U.S. center back served a 50-yard ball to the top of the penalty area, where Davies won the header and popped the ball high in the air. As it came down at the top of the six yard box, Casey spun in the air as he challenged Valladares for the ball, and he made first contact with the back of his head before the goalkeeper could get a hand on it. The ball bounced once before going into the empty goal.
In the 64th minute, forward David Suazo came on for Honduras and moments later he made a great diagonal run right from left to right. He received the ball in stride before unleashing a shot from the right side of the area to the far post that forced Howard to make his best save of the night with a two-handed parry to keep the ball from curling inside the far post.
In the 66th minute, the U.S. took the lead that it would not relinquish. Onyewu stepped in at the top of the U.S. penalty area to win a through ball, and carried the ball forward before he found Davies available on the left wing at midfield. Davies took the ball across midfield before playing it square to Donovan. Donovan dribbled toward the middle and threaded the defense for Casey who got behind the last defender in the area. Casey faked a shot to get Valladares to go down, and then calmly slotted the ball inside the right post.
A minute later, Jonathan Bornstein nearly doubled the U.S. advantage with a 25-yard blast that Valladares pushed back into play. Holden followed up but his shot from the right was blocked by a defender.
The U.S. continued to put the pressure on, and Casey earned a free kick after de Leon was whistled for a foul 22-yards from goal. Just three yards further from goal than de Leon scored from earlier in the half, Donovan perfectly placed the ball over Ricardo Clark standing at the end of the wall. Valladares was screened, and couldn’t react in time as the shot sailed over his back shoulder in the 71st minute.
Four minutes later, Wilson Palacios played a soft pass to Suazo who was in behind the U.S. defense on the right side. He played a cross in to Pavon who put the ball into the net from point-blank range. The goal was waived off, however, as Pavon was correctly ruled offside, in front of Suazo and the ball when the pass was played into the center.
In the 78th minute, play seemed to stand still as de Leon played Ramon Nuñez into the U.S. box with two other Honduran players in an offside position. Nuñez dribbled forward to the endline to bring his teammates back into play, and dropped the ball back for Suazo. He found de Leon a few yards away on the right side of the penalty area. De Leon took a touch toward the penalty spot before drilling a shot past a drawn-out Howard to cut the U.S. lead to 3-2.
In the 87th minute, a Nuñez free kick bounced in the area before coming up and hitting Holden’s left arm. Referee Roberto Moreno immediately pointed to the spot, and Pavon – who converted a penalty against the U.S. on Sept. 1, 2001, in Washington, D.C., in the last U.S. loss on home soil – missed the chance to equalize.
The U.S. held on for the next five minutes of regulation plus four minutes of added time to become the first CONCACAF team to win in Honduras during the 2010 qualifying cycle.
Honduras was previously 8-0-0 at home in qualifying for South Africa, and with three goals scored the U.S. matched the total that Honduras had allowed in their prior eight home games. The U.S. is now 5-3-1 on the road in qualifying, the best mark in CONCACAF heading into Matchday 10.
The match was the fourth time in nine qualifies that the U.S. surrendered the first goal. In those four matches, however, the U.S. has earned 10 of their 19 points with three come-from-behind wins and one come-from-behind tie.
With his goals, Casey became the 20th different player to score a goal for the U.S. in 2009 – the most ever in one year for the team. Donovan, with his pass to Casey on the second goal, set the U.S. single-year assist record with 10 to pass Cobi Jones.
The USA joins Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and Korea Republic as the only teams who have participated in all six World Cup since 1990, including secured berths to South Africa in 2010.
courtesy of ussoccer.com