Similar to the winless start endured by the Americans in their previous, and ultimately disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign, things are not going according to plan.
The argument could be made that two points from the first two games is an improvement over the two opening losses suffered in November, 2016. However, those earlier results were obtained in the toughest home game (Mexico) and the second-toughest away trip (Costa Rica) of the round.
In contrast, Thursday’s visit to El Salvador represented perhaps the most winnable away game, while a home victory over Canada Sunday night should have been all but a sure bet. Six points were expected, yet a grand total of two are sitting on the board.
As a result, Gregg Berhalter and his squad now find themselves under unexpectedly significant pressure to rescue this first international break of the whirlwind final qualification round by beating Honduras on their own turf on Wednesday night.
Any victory in the game – even an unconvincing narrow slugfest – will, at worst, see the US end the first of five gamedays in the fourth-place play-off spot. The ship will not have been righted, but it will at least give the team the chance to recover, regroup, and come back in a month to make some headway in what will be a relatively straightforward set of games.
However, as was the case in their visit to El Salvador, it’s never that easy to expect a win on the road in CONCACAF.
Overall, the Stars and Stripes have a relatively strong record against Honduras, however are far from dominant when visiting their Central American foes. Of the four World Cup qualifying matches played on Honduran soil this century, the Americans have won two, however those were for the 2002 and 2010 tournaments.
In the last two attempts, Los Catrachos were victorious by a 3-2 scoreline in 2009, and fought to a 1-1 draw in 2017. Recent history is stacked against this young squad.
On top of that, this third game of the rapid-fire international break sees the US squad heavily depleted of several of its most important stars, for reasons ranging from unlucky to unthinkable.
Recent starting keeper Zack Steffen has been a scratch since the first match against El Salvador, initially with back spasms, but now with a longer isolation ahead due to a positive test for SARS-CoV-2. New England’s Matt Turner has performed well in his stead, perhaps enough to make a case for claiming the job on the long-term.
However, this is the only like-for-like replacement amongst the growing number of absent starters.
Gio Reyna, the budding star of this team and for Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga, will continue to be out due to a right hamstring strain, leaving a major hole in the attack. Sergiño Dest sprained his ankle against Canada and will be unavailable to be played woefully out of position by Berhalter on the left of the defense.
Most curiously, and perhaps damagingly, Weston McKennie, whose physicality and vulture-like presence in the middle of the park would be a critical factor in an away game such as this, has been unceremoniously jettisoned back to Italy after having fallen afoul of the team’s Covid-19 rules.
Speculation about the exact nature of his infraction run the gamut from something so simple as a minor protocol oversight to rumors that would go down in eternal USMNT legend in the case, albeit an unlikely one, if they turned out to be true. Regardless of soap opera, McKennie’s unfortunate absence leaves Leipzig’s Tyler Adams as the main force responsible for organizing the midfield, likely with MLSer Kellyn Acosta at his side.
Should the US avoid any further injuries or senseless actions leading to even more absences in the final hours before the game, this squad still has the edge in overall quality on paper to potentially come out victorious in the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano.
Honduras has also drawn their first two games against the same two opponents as the US – Canada and El Salvador – however has gone on the road both times to earn their slightly-less-disappointing two points.
The result of this game will ultimately be decided on whether Berhalter can effectively use the limited chess figurines he has available, and whether these pieces, in particular Christian Pulisic, play like pawns or knights.