Pro-Honduran crowd expected at Soldier Field
CHICAGO -- Soldier Field figures to resemble Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula more than middle-America when the United States plays Honduras in a World Cup qualifier Saturday night.
Fans wearing the white-and-blue jersey of the Catrachos were coming off planes at O'Hare International Airport on Friday. More than 50,000 advance tickets were sold for the match, which completes the first half of the final round of qualifying for the United States.
"I think the boys, we're used to it," midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. "We're been playing away games at home for nine, 10 years since I've been here."
The U.S. team could use some support right now. Wednesday night's 3-1 loss at Costa Rica boosted the Ticos (3-1) over the United States (2-1-1) into first place in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Honduras (1-1-1), which is third, was the last team to beat the U.S. in a qualifier on American soil, a 3-2 win at Washington's RFK Stadium in September 2001.
"Only in America, I guess, we're fighting for a home-field advantage," then-U.S. coach Bruce Arena said after that match.
Hostile crowds in the United States are a familiar story for the players, who have gotten majority support against Latin teams primarily in Columbus, Ohio; Birmingham, Ala.; and Salt Lake City.
"The fact that sales shot up here after Mexico lost to Honduras is probably an indication that we were going to have more Honduran fans than we might have otherwise," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said Friday. "Would I prefer if there were 50,000 people rooting for the U.S. and 5,000 rooting for Honduras? Sure."
The 2001 match against Honduras has been the only home qualifying loss for the United States in 24 years, and the Americans are 15-0-1 since then. But several key players are unavailable.
Right back Steve Cherundolo is rehabbing from hip surgery, and backup Frankie Hejduk is doubtful because of a groin injury that caused him to miss Wednesday's debacle. Forward Brian Ching is out with a hamstring injury, and midfielder Michael Bradley is suspended after getting his second yellow card of qualifying.
Conor Casey, who leads Major League Soccer with eight goals, was added to the roster Friday. Jonathan Spector, sidelined for much of the past year, could get a start at left back following the poor defensive effort in Costa Rica.
"A little wakeup call, but we know that qualifying is never easy, and this is no exception," said Landon Donovan, whose injury time penalty kick produced the U.S. goal. "There's bumps along the road, there always are. No matter how prepared you are, the one constant is that things don't always do your way. So now we've got to respond."
While the U.S. is still in prime position to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup, another loss would create pressure. The next match is Aug. 12 at Mexico, where the United States is 0-22-1.
"Clearly, a huge game for us," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "Double fixtures are interesting because there's always the quick need to assess everything after the first game, make adjustments, figure out where you make your changes in your lineup. There's always tough discussion on the inside of the team about things need to be better."
Honduras is a talented team whose roster includes Tottenham's Wilson Palacios, Carlos Pavon and Amado Guevara. Given the dangers, Bradley wants to make sure there isn't a repeat of Wednesday.
"I got the sense that we were all shellshocked," he said. "We know what it's like to go on the road and fight for points, and then we understand the responsibility when you come home and you must take points."
And while U.S. players had just two off-days to recover, Honduras is well rested. The U.S. game at Costa Rica was moved up a week because of American participation in the Confederations Cup, the warmup tournament at South Africa where they open June 14.
"Physically it's a disadvantage," Donovan said, "but maybe mentally it's good to get out on the field and go again so you can forget about Wednesday."
Notes: The USSF will use TGI System Technology's Carpets for Soccer, system Saturday to make two-dimensional synthetic carpet sign boards around the field appear three-dimensional.