By IVES GALARCEP
SALT LAKE CITY- Honduras won’t be at full-strength. It is something that everybody knows by now, and something the U.S. Men’s National Team is fully aware of heading into tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Rio Tinto Stadium. That being said, don’t expect the U.S. to take a victory tonight for granted, not with Honduras still possessing plenty of talent, and not with the bad taste of their February World Cup qualifying loss in Honduras still fresh in the memory banks.
“You look at it on paper and they are missing three, four, five key players, but that’s almost like a trap if you look at it like that and relax,” said USMNT defender Matt Besler. “We’ve got to make sure we come out and start the game on the right note, like we did against Panama. Get the crowd into it. Stamp our game and high pressure them up the field.”
“It’s still Honduras, and it’s still 90 minutes to go out and try to win the game,” said Michael Bradley. “As far as who plays for them, who doesn’t, who’s injured, who ends up being able to play, It doesn’t change anything for us.
“We’re going to step on the field and try to impose ourselves on them, really from the start, with the speed of how we play, with the speed of our movement, when the ball turns over, closing down quickly, closing down aggressively, we’re going to try to tilt the bar our way right from the start.”
Honduras will be missing several key players, including suspended starters Victor Bernardez and Luis Garrido, as well as injured starter Maynor Figueroa and likely Oscar Boniek Garcia, but there is still plenty of talent on the Honduran squad to push the Americans. That includes some players the U.S. team is very familiar with.
Roger Espinoza was one of the key forces behind the Honduras victory in February, and he will be vital to any chance the Catrachos have of pulling the upset today. He is likely to face off against some familiar faces as former Sporting Kansas City teammates Graham Zusi and Besler are expected to start for the U.S. tonight.
“I’ve always said when he’s been on my team that he’s a guy you hate playing against, but you love to have him on your team,” Besler said. “This will be the first time I’m playing against him. He’s a really good player with a terrific engine. He’s a guy we’re going to have to keep an eye on and make sure we match his intensity.”
Besler will see another familiar face in Honduran colors tonight in forward Carlo Costly, who has recovered from an injury and is expected to start tonight. Besler and Costly had their share of battles when Costly was with the Houston Dynamo in 2011 and knows just how dangerous he can be.
“Costly for me is a tricky guy because one play he’s not in it, and you think he’s taking a play off, and the next minute he’s behind you putting the ball in the back of the net,” Besler said. “He’s a guy you always have to watch. He may not seem like he’s in the game in the first 30 minutes, then boom, he scores a goal.”
Besler has settled into a starting role in the U.S. back-line and has quietly established himself as arguably the best centerback in the pool. His partnership with Omar Gonzalez in the U.S. central defense continues to improve, and will be key to stifling the Honduras attack.
“I think we’ve grown a lot,”Besler said of his centerback partnership with Gomzalez. “I feel very comfortable with him. I think it’s becoming more natural, our partnership, but at the same time we have to keep improving.”