Jürgen Klinsmann's side booked its place in the Gold Cup final with a 3-1 victory over Honduras by grasping control of the game from the outset.Klinsmann has shown the dexterity to alter his formation and use different players to extract the best performances out of his squad in this tournament. His decision to stick with the successful 4-4-2 setup – complete with the often criticized and quietly influential Kyle Beckerman in central midfield – and start Eddie Johnson up top reaped significant dividends against a Honduras outfit ill-equipped to cope with the problems presented by those selections.
Johnson made particular sense in this match because he offered the Americans a chance to stretch the field vertically. He offers decent hold up work as a nominal target player, but his true strength remains pushing behind the opposing line and relying on his pace to unsettle opposing defenses. His immediate contribution against El Salvador on Sunday mandated his inclusion tonight. And his work on the evening – combined with the willingness to play narrowly on the shoddy and tight temporary surface at Cowboys Stadium – ultimately exposed the weakness within the Honduras ranks.
Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suárez left out most of his regulars for this tournament and shunted a few of his remaining pieces into unfamiliar areas to form his 4-2-3-1 formation. The absences of Victor Bernárdez, Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios proved particularly harmful on this night as the Hondurans prepared to deal with Johnson and the robust American approach. That particular trio adds the resolve and the steel necessary to deal with the combined threat of an in-form Landon Donovan buzzing around and Johnson trying to push through the defense.
In their stead, the Hondurans completely collapsed when confronted with direct play from back to front. Donovan dropped off at will to pull the rearguard apart. Johnson operated as a target man from time to time and surged through the line frequently against a back four ill-equipped to cope with the movement and the power presented by the Americans on the night.
Johnson registered the opener through a streamlined move through the middle of the park. Clarence Goodson played the ball into Donovan's checking run back into midfield. Donovan flicked through to catch out the stagnant Honduran rearguard. Johnson then raced behind the line and slotted home to open the scoring after just 11 minutes.
At that point in the affair, Honduras should have adjusted to the threat created by the American willingness to bypass the midfield at times and pile pressure on the back four with vertical balls. Most of the fault lays with the center defenders – Osman Chávez endured a torrid night when his experience should have helped to guide him through – for failing to communicate properly and rectifying at least a portion of those concerns with better positioning.
The second goal reinforced the themes introduced by the first. Johnson flicked a direct ball out of the back toward the back line. Alejandro Bedoya – perhaps in his most influential match in a U.S. shirt – beat his marker to the pass and shuffled it toward Donovan in the middle. And Donovan produced a goal of sublime quality – a cushioned trap off the chest and an instinctual flick with the outside of his foot – to cap off the move.
Honduras somehow managed to survive the remainder of the half without conceding and then switched its personnel at halftime. Suarez sent Marvin Chávez and Jerry Palacios into the fray to give his side more menace going forward, but the American dominance in possession – keeping the ball when required and then using it effectively to create chance after chance – blunted their influence.
Chavez did impact the game from a set piece to arrange the last meaningful sequence of the match. The San Jose winger exploited the Americans' continued weakness on set pieces with a teasing service from the right. The unmarked Nery Medina headed home to inject some modest doubt into the proceedings. It lasted for less than a minute as another Goodson longball over the top, another pass from Bedoya and another finish from Donovan restored the two-goal lead in short order and scuttled any lingering thoughts about a Honduras revival.
It never looked likely anyway, given the cohesiveness and the menace conjured by the Americans on the night. Klinsmann correctly identified the Honduran weakness with his team selection and watched his players feast on that soft core time and time again. The entire display oozed confidence and reinforced the now pervasive notion that the United States will enter the final as the favorite. Klinsmann will have one or two concerns to address – including his own availability for the match after his late dismissal – before the encounter, but he can take ample encouragement from this display as the preparations for Sunday's final in Chicago commence.
Follow KYLE MCCARTHY on or shoot him an email