US rebounds to beat Honduras 2-1
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) – Clint Dempsey flubbed a backheel five minutes in, Honduras pounced on it and the United States fell behind early for the second time in four days.
“Here we go again,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra thought.
Only this time, for the first time in 24 years, the Americans came from behind to win a World Cup qualifier.
Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick in the 43rd minute and Bocanegra scored on a diving header off Dempsey’s knock-down header in the 68th Saturday night for a key 2-1 victory over Honduras.
“If we don’t respond and win this game, we’re going to be in a bad position. Now we’re halfway through, in second place,” Donovan said. “Right now we’re in good position.”
Seeking its sixth straight World Cup berth, the United States (3-1-1) is second in the final round of North and Central American qualifying with 10 points, two behind Costa Rica (4-1), which won 3-2 at Trinidad and Tobago.
El Salvador (1-1-2) is third with five points following a 2-1 victory over visiting Mexico, and Honduras (1-2-1) is fourth with four points, one ahead of Mexico (1-3) and two in front of Trinidad (0-2-2).
The top three nations qualify for next year’s 32-nation field in South Africa, and the No. 4 team goes to a playoff against the fifth-place team in South America for another berth. After going to the Confederations Cup to play Italy, Brazil and Egypt, the U.S. resumes qualifying at Mexico on Aug. 12.
“I think our performances the first five games haven’t been great – we’ve been OK,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said, “but the positive is we’re still second and we haven’t yet reached our potential.”
The United States won a qualifier after trailing for the first time since beating Trinidad 2-1 at Fenton, Mo., on May 15, 1985. It has lost just one home qualifier in 24 years, 3-2 to Honduras in September 2001 at Washington, D.C. Since then, the U.S. team is 16-0-1 in qualifying at home.
A crowd of 55,647 attended the first-ever qualifier at Soldier Field, site of the 1994 World Cup opener. While the game was played on American soil, the dominant support was for Honduras, a Central American nation of about 7.6 million, Fans in blue and white appeared to outnumber red-clad American supporters by a 4-to-1 margin, and in the final minutes some fans threw a few cups filled with liquid at Howard.
“It’s just the way it is,” Dempsey said. “Maybe one day we’ll have more U.S. fans.”
Coming off a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica on Wednesday, U.S. coach Bob Bradley changed four starters, inserting right back Jonathan Spector, left back Jonathan Bornstein, midfielder Ricardo Clark and forward Conor Casey. DaMarcus Beasley, Marvell Wynne Jr. and Jose Francisco Torres were benched, and Michael Bradley was suspended for getting his second yellow card of qualifying.
The United States fell behind again when Wilson Palacios picked up Dempsey’s bad backheel and dished off to Carlos Costly, whose left-footed shot beat Howard from 22 yards.
“We controlled the game early. We had the first goal, and we had control of the ball, so we were in a position to win,” Honduras captain Amado Guevara said. “But that’s the way soccer is. You lose focus for a couple seconds, and that’s all it takes.”
Donovan, who played one of his best all-around games, made the penalty after a needless handball in the area by Mario Beata. It was Donovan’s American-record 11th goal in qualifying and 39th in 110 international appearances.
Donovan started the play for the go-ahead goal with a corner kick that was headed down by Dempsey, who outjumped Hendry Thomas. Bocanegra charged in and, horizontal to the field, headed it in from about 3 yards for his 11th international goal.
Dempsey joked that Bocanegra, who came out three minutes later with an injured right hamstring, was the perfect player to score that type of goal.
“He’s short anyway,” Dempsey said.