U.S., Honduras expect charged crowd for qualifier
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Landon Donovan expects the joint will be jumping at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano for the big World Cup qualifier between the United States and Honduras.
"Generally when you play in Europe, you'll get a section of the stadium that's passionate, maybe, three-, four-, five-, 10,000 people," he said. "But here it's going to be 25,000, 30,000 -- whatever the stadium holds -- incredibly passionate people, and you can just feel the difference in the energy."
Street vendors were out in force selling blue-and-white Honduran flags, both small and the full-sized banners, for fans to exercise their patriotic fervor. When the U.S. team bus came in from the airport on Thursday, local media followed trying to get photos and video.
"Here in Honduras, football feels different because of that social factor that it represents for the people, the fans, the emotions, the passion that there is," Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda said. "It's something that you don't get in other countries."
For Hondurans, Saturday night's World Cup qualifier is an opportunity to both unite and move a step closer to its first World Cup appearance since 1982. For U.S. players, it's a chance to clinch a spot in next year's 32-nation field in South Africa.
"For me personally, and I think would I speak for the guys who were in Germany in 2006, this would be an opportunity at redemption in some ways," Donovan said.
Despite the political turmoil following a June military coup in Honduras, everything was pretty much normal at the U.S. hotel Friday, with the usual amount of security but nothing extraordinary. A few American fans were in the lobby seeking autographs.
While police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protesters in the capital of Tegucigalpa, that is about a 4-hour drive across mountains from San Pedro Sula, Honduras' No. 2 city.
"It's obviously of interest to those of us who pay attention to world news in general," Donovan said, "but that part aside, the only interest from a soccer standpoint is making sure that it's safe and that everything's OK for us. And, like we've said, we rely on our security team, on the coaching staff, on U.S. Soccer to do that. It's not something we worry about. And they've never put us in harm's way, and I don't think they every would."
A police official told The Tribune newspaper that there will be about 1,000 police and 350 soldiers to provide security at the stadium, establishing a series of perimeters rotating out from the field.
The United States (5-2-1) leads North and Central America and the Caribbean with 16 points with two games left, followed by Mexico (5-3) with 15, Honduras (4-3-1) with 13 and Costa Rica (4-4) with 12. The top three teams qualify, and the No. 4 finisher meets South American's fifth-place team in a home-and-home playoff.
The U.S. would clinch with a win, if Costa Rica loses at home to already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago (1-5-2) or with a tie combined with a Costa Rican loss or tie. If the Americans don't clinch Saturday, they could assure themselves a berth on Wednesday with a tie or win against Costa Rica at Washington, D.C.
"We go into this game with an opportunity to go for it," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "The idea is to go for three points, to be aggressive and leave it all on the field."
Coming off first-round elimination at the 2006 tournament, the 11th-ranked U.S. is seeking its sixth straight World Cup berth.
Trying to make it to the World Cup for only the second time, 42nd-ranked Honduras boasts several Europe-based players, including Wilson Palacios of Tottenham, Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas of Wigan and David Suazo of Inter Milan.
"We're two games away from being able to make history," said forward Carlos Pavon, who turned 36 Friday. "I'm very close to being able to accomplish my dream."
The Catrachos are 8-0 at home in qualifying, outscoring opponents 22-3 in those matches.
"Because they're not big names like the Spains or Russia or England," defender Oguchi Onyewu said, "that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be an easy outing every time you go out there."
NOTE: Bradley said MF Clint Dempsey, who is missing Saturday's match because of a sprained right shoulder, is making progress and remains an option for Wednesday.