DEFENDING champions USA begin their CONCACAF Gold Cup trail with a clash against 2013 semi-finalists Honduras in the early hours of Wednesday in Frisco. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews game two in Group A.
USA v Honduras | Wednesday 02.30 | BT Sport 2
A nation awaits. A nation expects. Gold Cup hosts USA get their campaign started in Texas with what could be an awkward curtain-raiser against Honduras. The two teams met in the 2013 semi-final with the Stars and Stripes securing a 3-1 success and although preparation has been impressive, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is demanding more.
The German legend suggested this week that his side must “step it up in order to get three points” before highlighting the aggressive and “very, very nasty game” that could be in store from the physical Hondurans on Wednesday morning. USA are under no illusions about what to expect from the Central Americans.
News of the US’s away friendly victories in Germany and the Netherlands went global and although four players from their courageous World Cup team 12 months ago are missing, there’s a feeling that the current crop are making strides. I certainly don’t believe they should be considered second favourites to go the distance and backed by a raucous home support, should have everything in place to defend their title.
The Stars and Stripes took Guatemala apart 4-0 in their final warm-up game last weekend and have now notched 17 goals in their last seven outings – they’ve won their previous four fixtures before arriving in Frisco too. A sold-out crowd will demand a winning start and whilst Klinsmann’s troops should deliver maximum points, it might not be quite so straightforward.
Honduras have endured a difficult year since their pointless World Cup exit with the nation clearly renovating and looking to bring in a new breed of player. But the appointment the mastermind behind Costa Rica’s superb 2014 World Cup campaign Jose Luis Pinto is beginning to reap its rewards.
Los Catrachos arrive having suffered just one defeat in their last five and that came in just a 1-0 loss to Brazil last month. Just last week they held Mexico to a scoreless draw and there’s quiet confidence back home that Pinto could potentially lead this group to their first final since the inaugural Gold Cup in 1991.
The five-man backline that Pinto employed so successfully with Costa Rica is being implemented with Honduras and having conceded just three goals in their previous five games suggests the stifling approach could again prove a vital tactic for a nation without a huge amount of talent in forward areas.
USA forward pairing Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have yet to really strike up a solid partnership for the national team and so the Stars and Stripes might need to be patient as they bid to break down their stubborn, aggressive opposition. Don’t be surprise should this showdown prove a tight affair.
At 4/9 (Bet365) USA are rightly expected to pocket the points but I prefer having a dabble on BetVictor’s 17/5 in the Double Result market with Draw/USA standing out. Admidst the stifling heat, Honduras are likely to sit back, aiming to frustrate the defending champions so it might take a little time to find the breakthrough.
I’ll also have a play on USA to win ‘to nil’ at 13/10 with Paddy Power. Since the World Cup the Americans have won six games, four of which have come with a clean sheet in tow – only their victories against Germany and the Netherlands failed to feature a shutout. In contrast, Honduras have finished scoreless in seven of their 16 outings since Brazil and eight of their most recent 13 losses have seen Los Catrachos draw blanks.
If you're interested, USA have won all 12 of their previous Gold Cup openers since the inaugural tournament in 1991 with seven of those 12 victories also coming ‘to nil'.
USA v Honduras – Draw/USA (17/5 BetVictor)
USA v Honduras – USA to win ‘to nil’ (13/10 Paddy Power)