Late point for United States against Honduras 'huge' - Bruce Arena
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - U.S. manager Bruce Arena lauded his side's battling qualities, as Bobby Wood's late equalizer earned a 1-1 tie against Honduras in a World Cup qualifier and kept the Americans in control of its own destiny in terms of qualifying for Russia 2018.
The U.S. managed to gut through hot and humid conditions that saw the temperature hit 93 degrees at kickoff. When combined with humidity of 63 percent, it felt like the temperature was well over 100.
"Getting a point was huge for us today," Arena said. "The conditions were quite challenging for both teams and I'm really proud of our team, the way we hung in there and battled and walked off the field with a point.
"I'm sure the Honduran team is disappointed. Welcome to World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF."
But Arena is under no illusion about the quality of his team's overall performance, which he described as "okay."
The U.S started well enough over the first 20 minutes or so, but Honduras began to make some headway by attacking the Americans on the flanks through Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. That approach paid off as Honduras broke in the 27th minute when U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez couldn't cut out a through ball for Quito, allowing the Houston Dynamo attacker to set himself and curl his shot in off the post.
The U.S. was looking wobbly for the next few minutes as Honduras continued to press forward, but the Americans managed to survive until half-time.
"I think we put our heads down a little bit after that [goal]," he said. "We had to regroup at half-time. I thought the effort in the second half was very good, and we fought through the conditions."
Arena also sounded somewhat annoyed at the fact that his side didn't do a better job containing Honduras' flank play.
"I don't think we did a good job [on Elis and Quito]," said Arena. "We knew exactly what they were going to do, they would isolate Elis on [DaMarcus] Beasley and Quioto on [Graham] Zusi. We talked over the last couple of days how we'd bring a second player to stand them up. We didn't do a good job on the goal.
"I think Omar came over and if I'm not mistaken, he kind of just fell over the ball a little bit, and Quioto regained it and finished. But they gave us a hard time. They're very dangerous players and we could have been better.
"What you did see is those two players absolutely ran out of gas in the second half and then with them coming out of the game it made it a lot easier for us to put more pressure on them at the other end."
A trio of substitutions -- Paul Arriola for Beasley, Geoff Cameron for Zusi, and Wood for Darlington Nagbe -- helped turn the tide for the visitors. The fresh legs enabled the U.S. to push forward, and with time winding down, the Americans managed to equalize in the 85th minute through Wood following a goalmouth scramble that included plays from Matt Besler and Jordan Morris to keep the ball alive.
"We knew it wasn't going to be pretty, and our players were dead on the their feet as you could see," said Arena. "We just had to battle, create a chance, and put it in the back of the net. And we did that."
As for what he told Wood prior to his entering the match in the 73rd minute, Arena said his instructions were simple.
"Score a goal," Arena said jokingly. "That's what he was there for. You're going to put a striker in, and I told him at half-time, 'You're probably going to go in for the last 20-30 minutes.' It was planned, and we knew that.
"These aren't the best conditions for our players over in Germany right now. It's difficult. You could even see with Christian [Pulisic] today it was difficult, and he's an extremely fit guy. They're not used to these conditions. With Bobby playing 90 minutes the other day, it was unlikely he could deal well in this climate. He did what he was supposed to do."
The result keeps the U.S. ahead of the Catrachos on goal differential and when asked if the door to Russia was not open for the U.S., Arena said: "The door for Russia, there's not even a crack open right now. There's a lot of work to be done to get to Russia.
"We're real pleased to get a point. We're going to get out of here and not look back."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.