It was gritty and oppresively humid but, with a bit of luck, the United States bounced a Honduras team that would not go down without a fight. In his first match since losing the team's captaincy, Clint Dempsey tallied twice to keep Honduras at bay despite a late effort that included a goal by Catrachos substitute Carlos Discua.
The sellout crowd of 22,357 (mostly) Americans echoed chants throughout the night and helped to propel the United States to their seventh consecutive Gold Cup victory. The red, white, and blue have not lost or drawn a match since the 2011 Gold Cup Final - a perfect record for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The match was bookended by twenty minutes of frantic, uptempo play by Honduras that the USA struggled to deal with.
"We played good football," said Honduras head coach Jorge Luis Pinto. "We probably made it into the United States area maybe 10 times but when we get there, we have trouble."
Pinto believes the team did great work to reach Brad Guzan's box but was unable to put an effective finishing touch on their shots. That same lack of concentration carried into the defense, where Honduras left Clint Dempsey to pounce on the ball twice.
Said Pinto, "With all due respect, we cannot lose a guy like Dempsey on set pieces."
But there were bright spots for Honduras. Forward (and former DC United player) Andy Najar routinely carved the US defense in the first half, combining expertly with Mario Martinez and Anthony Lozano but came up empty with each chance. US defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman could frequently be seen amid the centerback tandem of John Brooks and Alvarado, helping to deal with Honduran crosses from out wide.
"I don't think we were at our bests," said US goalkeeper Brad Guzan. "I think we turned the ball over quite easily - too many times - and maybe put ourselves under some undue pressure... but good teams find a way to win."
And that the United States did.
Despite Honduras' chances, it was Clint Dempsey's goal in the 25th minute - a brilliant reaction header - that would do well to relieve some of that pressure from the first half. With the momentum shifted Stateside, the US found more creative ways of getting forward, particularly through captain Michael Bradley, who celebrated his 100th cap for the national team.
Bradley was exploited defensively early on in the match but Dempsey's goal allowed for Bradley to take a more commanding control of the midfield as Honduras began to sit back deeper and opt for counter attacks. Another Dempsey goal in the 64th minute (yet another header assisted by Bradley) would put Honduras in a tailspin.
With few things going well as time ticked away, Honduras opted for midfielder Carlos Discua in place of Mario Martinez. The move would reap benefits within seconds as Discua's first touch in the 69th minute was a beautiful run around the statuesque defense of Ventura Alvarado, resulting in a goal that breathed life into Honduras.
The United States would begin defending again, as they did early in the first half, and seemed content in the final ten minutes to sit back and give possession to Honduras. Whether or not the US could have survived another ten minutes without conceding a goal is no matter. Soccer is a game of 90 minutes and at the end of it, the United States had a 2-1 victory and three points in the Group A table to go with it.
"It was not easy at all tonight," said United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "There will be moments of a little struggle... at the end of the day, in a tournament, you've gotta move on right away." Klinsmann feels confident that the team will improve from match to match and eventually work into a rhythm as the games come.
Unfortunately, Houston Dynamo's Boniek Garcia and Luis Garrido did not see playing time in Dallas. Both began and ended the match on the bench but, with a game against Panama in just days, it's likely that all teams in Group A could see a bit of a shuffle to allow for appropriate days of rest. Both Garcia and Garrido are likely candidates for some playing time in the coming week.
Panama 1 - 1 Haiti
The United States victory followed what was an unexpected and entertaining finish to Panama vs. Haiti. In that match, Haiti's Duckens Nazon found a late equalizer in the 85th minute that stunned Panama, who was expected to finish second in Group A. The underdog's efforts put Panama's Gold Cup campaign in jeopardy with two matches remaining.
Group A Upcoming Matches
July 10th - Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA
Honduras v. Panama (5:00PM CDT)
USA v. Haiti (7:30PM CDT)