Let’s Talk USA vs. Honduras

March 27, 2017

On Friday, the USMNT defeated Panama 6-0 at Avaya Stadium, the highlight of a huge soccer weekend in the Bay Area. Let’s talk takeaways.

Attendance

Avaya Stadium was not sold out in one of the biggest matches of the year. This is due in part to U.S. Soccer and their introduction of a pre-sale lottery system for all tickets, which disqualified multiple orders to the same shipping address. Regardless, it should be seen as shocking that the game was not a sellout.

For all the Quakes have done for soccer in San Jose, and the Bay Area in general, not being able to sell out a World Cup Qualifier in a “must win” game shows that soccer either has reached its peak in Bay Area sports as it seeks to compete with the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, or fans do not like the taste of the beautiful game. Maybe an Earthquakes title will change minds? Until then, and despite the huge success of the match, I doubt the USMNT will return to Avaya anytime soon. 🙁

Tifo

Did you know the Hamilton-themed tifo got international attention? U.S. Soccer gave it a shout-out on twitter, which was retweeted by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda all the way from London. It was also a feature article on mlssoccer.com. Nice job, AO San Jose and AO Oakland!

Landon and Alexi

Let’s be honest, most fans of Earthquakes soccer (including this guy) are not fans of Landon Donovan and Alexi Lalas. Landon abandoned the team to play in Germany until San Jose no longer had his MLS rights (which were traded by Lalas), choosing instead to play for the rival L.A. Galaxy upon his return; his moniker of Judas is well-earned. Alexi Lalas was the team’s GM who orchestrated the team’s move from San Jose to Houston and the release of Donovan’s rights. We used to have mad love . . .

Both showed up at the American Outlaws Night Before Party, both took the leap of faith off a (what else?) taco truck into a crowd of U.S. Soccer faithful (including this guy). Is it sacrilege to allow these two into San Jose?

Well, there’s always more to the story than the beginning. Landon was not even supposed to come to San Jose, yet showed up despite knowing that San Jose fans would want nothing to do with him; he filled in when Stu Holden could not make the trip. On the taco truck, Landon even revised his mea culpa speech from the MLS All-Star game, and appears to be trying to make amends for doing San Jose wrong. Those things took a lot of guts from Lando, who did not have to make the trip at all. Alexi Lalas also showed up to the night-before party and mingled with fans for more than a few hours, which took some mettle as well.

While I’m no fan of how both screwed San Jose, both are also helping grow the sport in the United States and appear to have learned from their mistakes. Is it time to forgive? Ask again in a few years. But let me say this, I don’t hate either one as much as I did at this time last week.

The Fix Was In

Either Honduras was completely unprepared, completely out-coached, or the U.S. Men’s National Team were the beneficiaries of serious match-fixing. The key to match-fixing is making sure people don’t think it was fixed, but the signs are there. Look at the goals alone.

First goal, Sebastian Lletget is totally unmarked by right-back Emilio Izaguirre, who is covering absolutely no one during the U.S. build-up. Lletget waltzes to the back post for an easy score.

Second goal: seasoned defensive mid Jorge Claros goes for the high press, opening up his position at the top of the box. He then allows Michael Bradley to go right around him to the open space he was just occupying. The ball initially comes from the right-hand side of the attack via throw-in, yet during Bradley’s dribble, ‘keeper Donis Escober inexplicably decides to cover the left goal post, even though two players are in front of it. This movement to the far/covered post opens a clear shooting alley for Bradley, who takes advantage of not only poor goalie positioning, but a Honduran defense that has just four defenders on the back-line after a U.S. throw-in their defensive zone.

Third goal: Not to take away anything from Deuce’s first goal, the Honduran side was basically ensuring the goal would count, either by Deuce converting his shot, for fouling him so bad that the ref would call for a PK.

Fourth goal: Jorge Claros is in PERFECT position to prevent the through-ball to Christian Pulisic. Instead of playing the ball with his head or body, he slows up and tries to play the ball with his foot(??). The ball *miraculously* gets through to Pulisic, who buries it near-post. Escober could have run out to “make himself big” and try to prevent the shot, but remains back the entire time. Easy put-away for Christian.

Fifth goal: Jozy Altidore receives a pass from Jorge Claros (technically it was a “misplayed” ball that went straight to Jozy) to set up a counter attack. Honduran defender Maynor Figueroa slows his pursuit of Clint Dempsey to allow a Pulisic through-ball. Dempsey gets the ball, and has a go at goal. Figueroa is in position to attempt to make a play the shot, but dives under(?) the ball to allow the shot to go through.

Sixth goal: Pulisic is tripped at the top of the box, setting up a free kick for Deuce. Deuce goes far post, Escober jumps near post, then back to far post, allowing Deuce’s goal to put the game away with 30 minutes to play.

Honduras also had plenty of opportunities, but none come to mind more than a few plays that happened right in front of me towards the end of the match. At 84′, the United States concedes a corner, which Honduras uses to send a cross to a group of four Honduran players at the pentalty spot. None of them jostled for position to free up a player for a go at goal, and when the corner sails over the heads of all his teammates, Oliver Morazan has a clear chance to put the ball back into the box, yet allows the ball to go behind him, which is promptly lobbed to Tim Howard (not even a cross) by Brayan Beckeles. Honduras managed seven corners, yet only two (by my count) led to a shot.

At 90+1′, Honduras has a free kick at the top of the box. The ball finds its way to a waiting Tim Howard, who gives up a huge rebound to Ever Alvarado. Alvarado completely fans on his open shot, and his teammates watch the ball travel back to the bi-line. These examples, and countless other Honduras “shots” which never challenged Howard give me reason to believe the fix was definitely in place for the U.S. side.

The Ultras/AO Beef

I get it. The San Jose Ultras are probably the most HATED supporters group in MLS, especially with Seattle, Portland, and L.A. And many of the American Outlaws are part of Emerald City Supporters, Timbers Army, and Angel City Brigade, including the head of the AO San Francisco chapter, who is also President of the Fog City Faithful, a subgroup of ECS. The 2014 incident at Candlestick only amplified the animosity. The Ultras and more than a few AO chapters have beef. Hell, even I have beef with ECS.

At some point, the beef overtook supporting the team, on both sides. While I doubt there can be total reconciliation between the two sides, my hope is that both sides can agree that supporting the team is more important than the beef they share. That said, if the USMNT returns to Avaya, I hope both sides would focus on what should be the most important thing for supporters: supporting the team. Leave the beef with MLS matches and try to unite forces to support the red, white, and blue.

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