In the final game of the group stage the US beat Honduras on the strength of an Eddie Gaven stoppage time penalty. The win clinches first place in Group A and a match-up with the to-be-determined 2nd place team from Group B. Having already secured a place in the semi-finals by way of Panama’s win over Cuba in the earlier match, Coach Piotr Nowak elected to rest his most important players. It was a good opportunity for Nowak to evaluate his options for the all-important semi-final.The play of the US was solid if not spectacular. The US held decidedly more possession and was more deliberate and effective in its attacking play.
Back-up goalkeeper Dominic Cervi saw his first action of the tournament and was solid except for one rash decision in the 1st half where he wildly challenged for a bouncing ball at the top of the 18. Fortunately nothing resulted from the nervous moment because Cervi was bailed out by the referee who called a phantom foul. Michael Orozco turned in another stellar performance in the center of defense. His timing, decision-making and distribution were excellent. Tonight he was partnered with Patrick Ianni who again showed some shaky moments though nothing catastrophic. The performances of Kamani Hill and Hunter Freeman were similar to their performances against Cuba. Hill was smooth moving forward and more apt to do so. Freeman was again a liability with the ball at his feet but strong in defense.
The best performances were put in by Stuart Holden who was given the free role in the midfield and Charlie Davies off the bench. Holden made himself available all over the field and connected well with his teammates. His delivery on set pieces was one aspect of his game that needs to improve. Davies came in midway through the 2nd half and immediately caused problems for the Honduran defense with his speed and ability to hold off defenders. He created two penalties, one he missed and then the game-winner that Gaven converted. In addition to the penalty Gaven had a larger impact on tonight’s match than he did in the match against Panama. He was confident on the ball and willing to take it hard straight at the defense. Zizzo also was daring in his play and quite effective. Nowak will have some difficult decisions on whom to play along with surefire starters Adu, McCarty and Holden in the semi-final.
The worst performances of the night were those of captain Sacha Kljestan and forward Chad Barrett. Kljestan might have completed half of his passes which is absolutely unacceptable for a deep lying midfielder whose main responsibility is to help maintain possession. Perhaps Kljestan was upset that he was on the field with the “B” team. Whatever the case his decisions and execution were both lacking. After McCarty subbed in for Kljestan, the possession of the US was steadied and more purposeful. McCarty has proved to be an invaluable presence on the team; with each performance he has justified Nowak’s exclusion of Benny Feilhaber. Barrett worked hard and made some decent runs but apparently forgot his cleats and decided to wear cinder blocks instead. Robbie Findley was paired with Barrett up top; he was unable to leverage his speed into the danger that Davies did but still had moments where he created scoring opportunities. On one particular build-up, Zizzo played into Findley’s feet and Findley coolly pulled a Cryuff that put him one-on-one with the ‘keeper at the six. The ‘keeper acted quickly and saved Findley’s low shot with an outstretched leg, but it was still a lovely, encouraging display of creativity.
The US opponent will be decided tomorrow night in the final Group B matches: Mexico plays Haiti; Canada plays Guatemala. Guatemala has won the group; the possibilities for 2nd place vary widely but the most likely outcome is Mexico. A semi-final with an Olympic berth on the line will be a nerve-wracking match; add in a fierce continental rivalry and you’ve got a clasico for sure.