U.S. holds off Honduras to close in on World Cup spot
Costa Rica wins, are 2nd behind Americans
Jozy Altidore scored a goal in his fourth consecutive international match, enough for the United States to edge Honduras 1-0 in a World Cup qualifying game Tuesday night.
Before 20,250 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium, the Americans remained atop the six-team CONCACAF group. The United States (4-1-1) won three straight games this month, all since a 0-0 draw at Mexico gave it a boost toward the top.
It has also shut out its last two opponents, Panama and Honduras.
"Every time we get a clean sheet, we feel like the best players in the world," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We've been on a roll. It's good for the young guys in the back. It gets us feeling good about ourselves. Every time we have a good performance, we put in our back pocket and save it."
Honduras (2-3-1) was the last team to win at the United States in a World Cup qualifying match, back in 2001. The Americans have won or drawn 25 straight at home since then.
The visitors made it difficult on the Americans for much of the game by slowing the pace before Altidore broke through.
"The team now understands it's not only a physical grind you put into these games. It's a mental one," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "Mentally we're getting stronger. We're getting tougher. We are now prepared to go through the games."
After several second-half near misses, the U.S. got its goal in the 73rd minute. Altidore took a cross from Fabian Johnson from near the end line and put it past goalkeeper Noel Valladares across the goalmouth inside the right post.
It was Altidore's ninth goal in a qualifier as he finally develops into the scoring threat the United States has hoped for.
"We are very happy for Jozy," Klinsmann said. "We always told him from a coaching perspective that it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of adjustment, it takes the right moment to be there, it takes the hunger. The energy he has put in the last four or five games has been tremendous. It's not only that he scored those goals, the work he does for the team is awesome."
Both teams played physical soccer in the first half, leading to an emphasis on defence and a limited number of scoring chances on either side of the field. Just before the first period ended, though, Howard was forced to make a difficult save when Andy Najar launched a running right footer from the right side of the box. Howard met the ball in the centre of the box and deflected it outside the right post.
Eddie Johnson had a chance in the 17th minute when he latched onto a cross from Fabian Johnson. His left-footed shot from the centre of the box was knocked away by Valladares.
When the U.S. stepped up the offensive pressure early in the second half, it put Honduras on its heels. Altidore had the finishing touch.
He even appeared to score earlier in the half. Moments after Graham Zusi sent a free kick into a crowd of players just outside the 6-yard box in the 56th minute, only to see Brad Evans' header go right into Valladares' gloves, Altidore got behind the defence. Clint Dempsey sent a through ball ahead to Altidore, who was ruled offside and his score was negated.
Valladares came up with another clutch save in the 69th minute. Zusi, who was particularly active all night after sitting out the win over Panama because of yellow card accumulation, sent a ball into Dempsey in the centre of the box and he leaned into a point-blank header. The ball bounced off of Valladares' hands and Michael Bradley sent a follow-up shot too high.
Costa Rica 2, Panama 0
Goals by Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges put Costa Rica in a stronger position to qualify for next year's World Cup with a victory over Panama on Tuesday night on home turf in San Jose.
The Costa Ricans have 11 points from six matches with a 3-1-2 record. That trails only the United States.
Ruiz opened the scoring on a free kick in the 49th minute, and Borges clinched it just about two minutes later from long distance in a steady rain at National Stadium.
Panama has six points on a 1-2-3 record and is fifth of the six teams.
The top three finishers from the CONCACAF finals will qualify for Brazil 2014, with the fourth-place team entering a playoff against New Zealand.