SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Michael Bradley realizes the huge distinction between home games and road matches in international soccer.
“In some cases it couldn’t be more different,” the U.S. captain said last week at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. “You look around here: a beautiful stadium, a field that’s in great condition.”
And then he thought ahead to the Americans’ upcoming trip to Central America.
“Tuesday in Honduras will be the complete opposite,” he predicted, “so your group has to have a mentality that understands that, embraces that and realizes that the way to get results on the road is different.”
Teams usually reach the World Cup by winning home games and occasionally picking up points on the road. The U.S. had lost once in 50 home qualifiers (42 wins, seven ties) since 1985 before defeats to Mexico last November and to Costa Rica on Friday night.
During that same span, the Americans had 19 wins, 15 losses and 16 draws in away qualifiers.
A temperature in the low 90s is expected for the late-afternoon game, which kicks off at 3:36 p.m. (5:36 p.m. EDT). High humidity could make it feel like about 110, and rain is possible. The Americans won a night game here 3-2 eight years ago, then wasted a one-goal halftime lead in the afternoon in 2013, wilting during a 2-1 loss to the Catrachos.
Gaining at least a point at Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano has become critical for the Americans, who are third in the North and Central America and the Caribbean with eight points, ahead of Honduras on goal difference. The top three teams qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation goes to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 finisher.
Mexico (17 points) clinched Friday night and Costa Rica (14) is on the verge of assuring itself a World Cup trip. While Panama (seven points) could move into third with a home win over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, the U.S. hosts the Panamanians next month and could move back ahead.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said Friday’s 2-0 lost to Costa Rica doesn’t change the U.S. approach to Honduras.
“I think we would have anticipated us going down there and getting a win,” he said.
The U.S. probably will need wins or draws from all three of its remaining games to reach its eighth straight World Cup. The Americans host Panama on Oct. 6 at Orlando, Florida, and conclude the hexagonal four days later at Trinidad, which probably will have been eliminated by then.
After the U.S. opened the final round with losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, the U.S. Soccer Federation fired coach Jurgen Klinsmann and brought back Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. Qualifying started to get back on track in March with a 6-0 rout of Honduras at San Jose, California. The U.S. figures to play a bit more defensively on the road.
Arena made three changes to his lineup for the March qualifier at Panama, when his players had three days’ rest, and seven for the June match at Mexico City, when there were just two days between games and the U.S. had little time to adjust to altitude.
He will have to make at least one switch Tuesday: forward Jozy Altidore is suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Howard was at fault on Costa Rica’s first goal Friday and defender Geoff Cameron’s poor pass led to the second. With a 25-man roster, Arena has ample maneuvering space.
“We’re going to go down there with the mentality to win the game,” Bradley said. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the field who are ready to give everything, and we will. If at the end of 90 minutes we’re in a position where we take one point, then we’ll take that and know that everything’s still in our own hands in the last two games.”