U.S. men inconsistent in friendly win
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The United States' friendly match against Honduras was a study in soccer irony. The Americans have played better games during the Jurgen Klinsmann era, but this time they managed to break through and claim a 1-0 victory, the German's first as U.S. manager.
Clint Dempsey tallied the lone goal for the Americans, their first since Robbie Rogers scored against Mexico in August. In the 36th minute, the U.S. forward displayed some nifty footwork to free himself after Brek Shea's cross found him in the box and hammered home his shot with authority.
Afterward, Klinsmann didn't look especially overjoyed at securing his inaugural win as U.S. coach but admitted that victories do make his job a bit easier.
"It's good to have the feeling that we're doing the right thing," he said, "but it's also good to have the feeling that we're getting the results in."
Goalkeeper Tim Howard was a bit more effusive in his description of what the win meant to the players.
"It's huge for all of us," he said. "You don't ever want to go a long period of time without winning. & We're trying to set a foundation, but we also have to win, and that was the focus coming into these fixture dates."
That said, the U.S. performance could best be described as ragged. Howard was called on far too often to keep the visitors at bay as the Americans -- defender Michael Orozco Fiscal in particular -- struggled to cope with the height of Carlo Costly and the pace of Jerry Bengston.
The U.S. also was hampered by some suspect passing out of the back on a field made slick by steady rain and affected by heavy winds, with some square passes in its own half getting easily picked off by the pressing Honduran side.
"I think it took us a little bit to get to a higher pace," Klinsmann said. "The first 20 minutes was a bit too static movement-wise but also because Honduras did a good job there, pushing high up."
After struggling to get its attack in gear, the U.S. seized control midway through the first half. Dempsey, playing ostensibly as a forward in support of Jozy Altidore, began to impose his will on the match. The left-sided duo of Shea and Timothy Chandler began to make some headway, with the latter going close in the 21st minute.
Yet much like last month's game against Costa Rica, the U.S. looked vulnerable on the counterattack. Costly stung the palms of Howard in the 27th minute, and the U.S. seemed oddly susceptible to some long balls over the top.
The U.S. soon regrouped, however, and broke on top for the first time in the Klinsmann era. A short corner between Steve Cherundolo and Shea was initially rebuffed, but upon regaining possession, Cherundolo fed Shea again and his cross went through a thicket of legs and was eventually fired home by Dempsey.
The second half saw some more inconsistent play from the Americans. The U.S. squandered some clear chances to put the game away, with Shea's miss in the 50th minute after good work from Altidore the most egregious.
Honduras continued to pose problems for the U.S., as the Americans never really controlled the game's tempo. Howard had to be at his best in the 73rd minute when he saved a Honduran blast at full stretch. The U.S. managed to see the remainder of the game out, without incident, to get the win.
And that will be the takeaway from this encounter. The U.S. secured a victory even on a night when its passing and team defending were far short of its best. These are the kinds of matches that the U.S. can expect during World Cup-type situations -- tight, competitive affairs in which mentality is often the difference between winning and losing. The fact that U.S prevailed bodes well.
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No doubt, Klinsmann will expect more fluidity from an attack that was missing the likes of Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden and Jose Torres. But Honduras was short-handed as well, leaving the U.S. manager to be happy with the win but aware that much more work needs to be done.
Player ratings: (1-10; 1 = low, 10 = high)
G Tim Howard, 9 -- With the U.S. defense looking wobbly early on, Howard came up big when it mattered, including a one-on-one save from Bengston in the 19th minute. He continued his fine form with more stellar work in the second half.
D Timothy Chandler, 5.5 -- Looked more comfortable playing left back in this match than he did against Belgium and was more of a threat going forward. Still needs to be cleaner on the ball as well as with his positioning.
D Carlos Bocanegra, 5.5 -- Was solid in his defending but had some suspect passes out of the back, which led to some opportunities for Honduras.
D Michael Orozco Fiscal, 3.5 -- Recovered to make some vital clearances but struggled mightily in his one-on-one defending, both in the air and on the ground. His touch helped set up Dempsey's strike, but overall a performance to forget.
D Steve Cherundolo, 6 -- A quiet but effective performance. Helped spring Shea in the buildup to Dempsey's goal. Had some decent set piece deliveries as well.
M Kyle Beckerman, 5 -- Had difficulty coping with the tempo of the game in the opening minutes but eventually found his feet. Doesn't look to have the range to play the lone holding midfielder role, however.
M Brek Shea, 6 -- Wasn't as clean on the ball as he needs to be but combined well at times with Chandler down the left side. His cross from the opposite flank helped set up Dempsey's goal. He'll have nightmares about his 50th minute miss from Altidore's pass.
M Maurice Edu, 5 -- The further up the field he plays, the less comfortable he looks, as his touches and passing were off. Did some valuable work tracking back to help Beckerman.
M Danny Williams, 4.5 -- Played with plenty of energy, but there was little end product to his endeavors, especially with regard to his distribution. Should have done better when presented with a clear chance in the first half, although he forced a good save from Donis Escobar in the 50th minute.
F Clint Dempsey, 8 -- Proved to be the key offensive spark. Showed off fantastic close control on his goal, and his finish was class as well. Thought he had a second goal in the 84th minute that was waived off for a foul.
F Jozy Altidore, 5 -- A mixed bag. Continued to show off his improvement with his back to goal but lost too many duels when taking opponents on. Should have had an assist in the second half, only for Shea to flub his chance with the goal begging. Even on that play, his poor first touch took away a chance to shoot.
D Oguchi Onyewu, 6 -- Nearly celebrated his return with a goal in the 66th minute only to put his rebound attempt high. Otherwise, looked reasonably composed and helped tighten things up in the back.
M DaMarcus Beasley, 6 -- Showed off some good speed and gave the U.S. a boost of energy when needed. Nearly latched on to a long clearance in the 88th minute but shot tamely at goal.
M Michael Bradley, 5.5 -- Took up good positions defensively but rarely got on the ball, save for a late one-two with Dempsey and an even later shot on goal.
D Jonathan Spector, 6 -- Provided a steady defensive presence when he came in, and his crossing caused the Honduran defense problems.
F Juan Agudelo, 6 -- Showed good hustle late in the buildup to Dempsey's goal that was disallowed, keeping the play alive for Spector's cross.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.