Bobby Wood's late equalizer sees the U.S. gut out massive point in Honduras
Three quick thoughts from the United States' 1-1 draw with Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying at San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.
1. U.S. guts out massive point
Should the U.S. reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it will likely look back on Bobby Wood's late second-half goal in the afternoon heat in San Pedro Sula as the moment that saved its qualifying campaign.
With the vuvuzuelas blaring and the Hondurans flying against an exhausted U.S. team, up popped substitute Wood to bang in a ball in the area to resurrect the U.S. after what was looking like an absolute hammer blow to its World Cup hopes. With the precious point, the U.S. is still in a good spot to reach Russia next summer, even if Panama, as expected, takes care of business and defeats Trinidad and Tobago at home later on Tuesday.
This was far from a pretty game for the U.S. The defensive errors are a topic all to themselves (see below), but the same things keep happening in other parts of the field. Christian Pulisic was left frustrated for the third qualifier in a row, after having little impact against Mexico in the Azteca and then being nullified in the Friday loss to Costa Rica. The Borussia Dortmund youngster is learning the beast that is CONCACAF, with its physical play and unsympathetic referees.
Darlington Nagbe goes missing far too often. When Nagbe is on the ball, the U.S. is a threat. The problem is that sometimes the Portland Timbers midfielder will seemingly go 10 minutes without a touch. That just can't happen. With both Pulisic and Nagbe out of sync, forwards Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey had little to work with, and it made for a meek showing from the U.S. attack.
But somehow, like other U.S. teams before, with its back against the wall, the U.S. found a way to emerge with a result, which for many was the expectation all along. Now with two matches remaining and just six points up for grabs, the desperation that was being felt for most of Tuesday's encounter has ended with hope.
2. Defensive errors plague U.S.
It's a refrain that has been repeated throughout this World Cup qualifying cycle for the United States: defensive errors. Going back to the 2-0 defeat to Guatemala in March 2016, through the 4-0 loss in Costa Rica in November and all the way up to Tuesday's showing, the U.S. defense has been susceptible to egregious errors.
The Honduran game plan took full advantage of that lack of confidence in the U.S. back line. Jorge Luis Pinto's men played long balls down the flanks for Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis to run on to and it left full-backs Graham Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley struggling to keep up with the speedy Houston Dynamo attackers.
The revolving door at center-back has been another issue and was again on Tuesday. The inconsistent Omar Gonzalez has been one of the biggest culprits. Inexplicably, the player who has starred for Pachuca in both Liga MX and the CONCACAF Champions League will have a lapse at the worst moment, and one such mistake set the table for the Honduran goal. His slip and failure to clear with Quioto bearing down made it easy pickings for the Dynamo man to finish past goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
It would be unfair to single out Gonzalez, though. John Brooks, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler have all struggled in the Hexagonal. Outside of the Brooks-led 2016 Copa America Centenario, it has been a shaky 18 months for the U.S. defense.
3. Arena's next steps
With a win on Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando, the U.S. will feel good about its chances of getting the necessary result on the final match day in Trinidad and Tobago.
But three points against the Canaleros are far from a certainty. Panama has proven to be a venerable foe, earning four straight 1-1 draws against the U.S. in official competitions, and another splitting of the points will suit Hernan Dario Gomez's men just fine next month.
There is still a lot of work for the former LA Galaxy boss to do. Those same defensive errors are likely to continue, assuming the same players are called. But a complete revamp to the squad is unlikely, especially with qualifying at its decisive juncture.
It's going to be a nail-biting finale to the Hexagonal, but if the U.S. can show the same character it did on Tuesday, the nightmare of this qualifying cycle can finally end.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .