U.S. just misses reserving World Cup spot

19-game unbeaten streak in home qualifiers ends against Honduras, 3-2

September 02, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - With an early goal further enhancing a golden opportunity to all but secure a fourth straight World Cup appearance next summer, the U.S. men's national team instead took an abrupt and disappointing step back in a final-round qualifying match against Honduras yesterday.

The Americans were unable to take full control when given the chance in the first half and then watched, along with a sellout crowd of 54,282 at RFK Stadium, the Hondurans make themselves right at home in the second half to walk off with a 3-2 win.

The loss ends a 19-game unbeaten streak (14-0-5) for the United States in qualifying matches on home turf, putting the team at 4-2-1 and on hold with 13 points (tied for first place with Costa Rica at the start of the day) in the six-team region from North and Central America and the Caribbean. The top three teams qualify.

It also marked the first time in 41 years that the U.S. team allowed three goals in a qualifier.

A potential goal that wasn't scored - U.S. captain Earnie Stewart's missed penalty kick at the end of the first half after the Hondurans got even at 1 - was the talk after the match.

"You score that penalty kick and the game looks completely different," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "You don't want to zero in on one thing, but a one-goal lead is pretty big for a home team with 45 minutes to go. We go into halftime, 2-1, and Honduras has to chase the game."

Stewart, who opened the scoring in the game's seventh minute and later got the Americans within one in the final minutes, said he simply didn't put the shot where he wanted to with Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares diving to his left to get a hand on it.

"I made a choice at the last moment to hit it to the other corner and it was stupid. Your first thought, they always say, is your best thought," he said. "It's just a crucial moment, right before halftime, you can go in 2-1 and you can have the momentum. But instead, it was a little bit the other way around and that hurt me more - going into the locker room and having to look at my teammates."

The Hondurans, who had a strong following clad in blue that dominated the stadium's upper bowl and was sprinkled about elsewhere, turned out to be the ones being chased in the second half as they improved to 3-2-2 with 11 points.

Milton Reyes was taken down in the penalty area by U.S. defender Jeff Agoos in the 53rd minute, resulting in a penalty kick converted by Carlos Pavon for a 2-1 Honduras lead. In the 77th minute, Pavon attacked the end line on the left side before putting a ball back to Nunez, who promptly finished from in close for a much-needed 3-1 lead.

"We had some poor defending by a couple of individuals today that hurt us," said Arena, who later pointed directly at defender David Regis.

"I think clearly David is the one who really broke down a bit there," he later added.

Stewart's second goal, a half-volley from outside the penalty area he actually mis-hit, fluttered its way off the top bar and in to get the Americans back within one in the 84th minute, but their depleted attack - missing three forwards along with playmaking midfielder Claudio Reyna, couldn't muster any more quality chances.

The match had a strong international flavor: three smoke bombs landed on the field, two spectators ran on the field following two Honduras goals, and plastic water bottles were thrown near U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

"Before the game you're talking and people are saying `Yeah, it's going to be 60-40 in favor of the Americans' and I don't think it was even 70-30 - not in favor of us. But that's life," said Stewart.

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