Winning on the road in Concacaf World Cup qualifying is hard, that is a mantra U.S. men’s national team fans have been hearing, and experiencing long enough to know its truth. That is what makes the trip to Honduras for Wednesday must-win qualifier in San Pedro Sula all the more scary.
Since 1998, home teams are a whopping 100-35-53 in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, but if there is a silver lining in the fact a road team has only won 35 times out of 188 road trips it is the fact the USMNT has accounted for eight of those wins, including two in Honduras.
The Americans are 8-11-12 all-time on the road in Concacaf final-round qualifiers since 1998, a road record better than any team in the region besides Mexico.
As encouraging as that history may be, the USMNT’s two points from two draws still has a large segment of the team’s fan base anxious and fearful of another qualifying failure, something U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter understands.
“If I’m a fan, I’m not happy with two points after two games. I’m not, and I can understand the frustration,” Berhalter said. ” I think that’s completely normal. But you have to look at the big picture. This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. You don’t qualify in one window. There’s five separate windows that you get a chance to qualify for.
“I can see it being just memories of the past, memories of last qualifying round coming back, and people say ‘Oh, we’re in the same situation’. I can understand that completely, ” Berhalter said. “What I’d say is, this is a different group, and we’re focused on on winning games, are focused on getting points, and we haven’t lost a game in qualifying. Sometimes you have to remind people of that. We haven’t lost a game yet. We know these games are difficult. And we’re focused on getting another result on Wednesday.”
If there is a sense that the USMNT is vulnerable, it isn’t just because of the results, but also because of missing stars Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie, as well as an attack that has managed just one goal in two matches.
“We have good Attacking players,” Christian Pulisic said when asked about the faltering U.S. attack. “It’s not something that we need to be concerned about or look into too much. Obviously, there’s slight things that we can do. We’ve watched video, certain adjustments that we’ll try to make just to make it flow a bit better, but in the end we know we know how to play. It’s our job to go out there and create chances and score goals.”
The Americans will be facing a Honduras squad that is in the same situation as the USMNT, sitting on two points from two matches, and after having rotated its squad heavily through the first two matches —making nine lineup changes from its first to its second September qualifier —Honduras will very likely be more rested than the Americans will be.
The pressure will be on Berhalter to find the right combination of players, and deploying a lineup that isn’t in danger of being overrun due to fatigue. Tyler Adams, Miles Robinson and Brenden Aaronson have all played major minutes in the September qualifiers, and Berhalter will have to decide which of those three he starts for a third straight time.
If Berhalter chooses poorly, and the Americans fail to secure the result they need to turn September into a successful month, he could find himself on the hot seat in much the same way Jurgen Klinsmann was almost five years ago when he began the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying with a pair of losses, results that wound up costing him his job.
“Pressure is part of this job. And I realized very quickly after getting the job, that’s what it is,” Berhalter said. “So I still have to be able to look at the big picture in the long term of qualifying. And I said before I want to try to remind people that we’re still tied for third. We have two points that along with four other teams. Qualifying is going to be a grind.”
So far, Berhalter’s squad has managed to avoid defeat, but is still searching for its first win, and while the distractions of injuries, and McKennie’s suspension, might seem like it could be enough to shake a young team and leave it vulnerable, Pulisic insists the USMNT is ready for the challenge of becoming the third American team to win a World Cup qualifier in Honduras.
“There’s no doubt within this team,” Pulisic said. “Where a confident bunch of guys. We know that we’re a good enough team to go in tomorrow to get three points. That’s it, that’s our, that’s our mindset.
“We’re going in to win the game, and we’re going to have to fight though. Nothing’s going to be easy, we know that. That’s how these games are. We have no excuses, and we’re going to go and try to win the game tomorrow.”