Will Honduras be partying after WCQ clash with the U.S.?

Posted by Roger Bennett

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- On the narrow roads to the Estadio Olimpico, fragile residences crush against corroding scrap yards and storefront churches. At every intersection along the way, kids battled each other and the Tuesday afternoon sun to sell Honduran flags, hats and wigs. Business appeared rapid, their goods spreading like kindle ready to catch light.

Estadio Olimpico, a rusting hulk, rises out of the dusty fields that surround it. The charmingly shabby construction of faded greens and reds will be transformed into a roiling sea of blue and white Wednesday afternoon (joint our Boot Room chat for every play, starting at 3:30 ET) as thousands of Hondurans take advantage of a national holiday to scream their beloved Los Catrachos to victory.

What do we know about this Honduras team? So much energy is devoted to decoding the perceived progress of the United States team under Project Klinsmann, the qualities of their Hexagonal opponents are often given the same attention as cannon fodder extras in a World War II movie. Carlos Bocanegra admitted the truncated nature of the team's training sessions had provided little time to analyze their opponents. "We know they are a younger, more energetic group … athletic and physical," he said. "We know it is going to be a tough game but we have not seen much film because camp was so quick."

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I spoke to two journalists from Honduran daily, Diez, to understand the game from their perspective. Writer and broadcaster Kelvin Coello described the sense of optimism that surrounds today's fixture. "After the Summer Olympics when we beat Spain and narrowly lost to Brazil, there was a real sense of expectation and confidence around the team," he said. "We wobbled recently in the Nations Cup, but everyone you ask here believes we will win. What is intriguing to us about the U.S. being here is that they are the world's biggest country coming to our doorstep. They may have won the last two games, but we have made ourselves believe it is our turn. "

Diez's soccer correspondent, Salvador Garcia, predicts the game will be "difficult." "USA are disciplined and well organized," he said. "Honduras crave possession and like to bet the bank on our attack. The United States will have to pressure us to get hold of the ball, but at the same time, it is crucial we remain patient and don't force our attacks or else the U.S. will punish our mistakes."

Both men agree on Honduras' greatest asset -- their attacking threat. As Coello explained, "Honduras are offensively focused. We rely on speed, power and physicality."

Garcia marveled at the complementary menace of Honduras' front two, Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengston. "Costly likes to go deep, Bengston is a killer in the area in the tradition of Carlos Pavon. He was the top scorer in Honduran League before joining MLS and can confidently convert opportunities whenever they arise."

Estadio Olímpico will start filling up at 8 a.m. local time, a full five hours ahead of kickoff. "People are going to travel from all over the region," said Coello. "It will feel like the whole country is in that stadium."

Garcia described the challenge the charged atmosphere will create for Jurgen Klinsmann's team. "It should be incredibly intimidating for the U.S. team with 40,000 Hondurans screaming for their team. The field is going to feel so hot, and they are not going to be able to hear each other talk." However, Coello confessed the presence of Klinsmann has sown seeds of doubt. The German's success as a player means he is revered here. "The fact that Klinsmann was a world champion earns him our respect," he said. "He is perceived to be an intelligent coach and we worry he may have brought a European style to U.S. soccer that we fear."

Despite the anticipation and energy brewing around the fixture, both men agreed, the U.S. game is far from the round's glamour tie. "Mexico are really hated here and our rivalry with Costa Rica -- we are the best two teams in Central America -- makes that the most important game to us," said Coello.

Indeed, Garcia believed the Hondurans' clashes with Costa Rica will determine the fate of the group. "We think we will come third or fourth in the group behind Mexico and the U.S." he said. "So the race for third will be between us and the Ticos."

When asked for predictions, both men were bullish. "I believe that this time tomorrow, I will be partying," Coello said. Garcia took the diplomatic high road. "The United States is beloved in Honduras but it will not be on the field tomorrow. Although we love MLS, which has been very good to us, tomorrow the U.S. is the enemy and we will beat them."


ODDS AND SODS

Cap-Tied Timmy Chandler
A grinning Timmy Chandler came out to meet the media Tuesday, 24 hours before he could become cap-tied to the United States. In his broken, yet improving, English, the Frankfurt-born defender said, "I want to help the USA, and I hope I can do it ... This whole team is like a family, and I like it very much." The FC Nuremberg defender quickly added that even the German side of his family had been "excited for him," explaining that his mother had assured him the decision was his own to make.

A forthright Tim Howard
Tim Howard was more forthright about Chandler's debut, and his opinion probably reflected that of many U.S. fans for whom the on-again, off-again saga had become a nagging obsession. "It's about time," Howard said. "There's been a lot of back and forth. Probably too much if you ask me. Timmy is a big part of the team. He's young … plays with a lot of grit and experience. Commitment is a big thing for us. If that is what he is going to do we are excited because he is a fantastic player; with Fabian [Johnson] and Timmy bookending the back four for us, that would be great because they are playing on great teams in great leagues. "

Asked how much the U.S. team would miss Landon Donovan's leadership, Howard shot back: "We have a lot of leaders. I would not agree with you that Landon was the king … He was the winning cap leader. We have a lot of guys here who have respect from the team."

Clint stays mum
One player who avoided the press was Clint Dempsey. The Tottenham attacker waited until the last moment to duck out of the locker room and dodge the waiting media. Klinsmann had recently made an example of Dempsey in the Wall Street Journal. Whether those comments motivated or irritated the U.S. star remains to be seen. For now, Dempsey's play will have to do his talking for him.

Roger Bennett is a columnist for ESPN FC and, with Michael Davies, is one of Grantland's "Men In Blazers." Follow him on Twitter @rogbennett.

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