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Michael Bradley piles pressure on USMNT before Honduras tilt

Tuesday 5th September 2017
It's a good thing Hondurans don't read English. Such seems to be USMNT captain Michael Bradley's opinion after a derogatory remark about Estadio Olimpico.

Bradley was interviewed after the United States 0-2 defeat to Costa Rica in a Concacaf World Cup qualifier on Friday evening. The USMNT had just made life difficult for themselves with a flat, disorganised performance against the Ticos.

Concacaf World Cup Hexagonal Table

The Americans now hold third place in the Concacaf Hexagonal, with the slot's direct progression to Russia, solely on goal difference. Mexico, the nation they should be battling for regional supremacy, has booked passage to the steppes. At bare minimum, a draw in Tuesday afternoon's trip to hot, sultry San Pedro Sula will maintain the status quo. A second consecutive defeat could place the Yanks' World Cup hopes in distinct peril.

Why, then, not think before making incendiary statements?

You look around [Red Bull Arena]: a beautiful stadium, a field that's in great condition. Tuesday in Honduras will be the complete opposite.

A blazing afternoon sun and excessive humidity will certainly test Bruce Arena's squad at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. So will the tirelessly vocal home support. Winning away at any Concacaf venue is (almost) always difficult. If you're going to acknowledge the home support's' role in such trials, it seems wise to be complimentary. Inferring their ground is a dump will only heighten their animosity.

Who knows? Perhaps the USMNT has become accustomed to playing with their backs against the wall. Losses in its first two Hex matches, 1-2 in Ohio to Mexico, 4-0 in San Jose to Costa Rica, definitely put the Americans behind the eight ball. The defeats also led to Jurgen Klinsmann's dismissal, Bruce Arena's return, and a 6-0 romp over Honduras in another San Jose, 6,000 km to the northwest in California. Did Bradley imagine piling on the pressure would produce a similar response from his teammates?
Circumstances won't be identical. The US will be on the road. La H will be seeking vengeance. Like its supporters, Jorge Luis Pinto's squad will be more intense. As well, they'll be more wary in dealing with a wounded animal this time.

For its part, the Yanks must quickly sort out their issues at the back.

Its centre half flavour of the month, Stoke's Geoff Cameron and Fulham's Tim Ream, now with a game as partners under their belt, need to get their spacing right. They failed to converge after a Tim Howard goal kick, allowing Marco Urena to penetrate the box and squib the opener past the former Everton keeper.

Howard, himself, will need to sharpen his positioning. It certainly looked as though Urena's weak roller shouldn't have troubled him.
From there, the US had to chase the game. When they failed to convert several good opportunities, even after veteran Clint Dempsey entered the match, still looking for the marker that would make him the all-time American goal-scorer on his own, they eventually pushed too far up the pitch. Inevitably, Costa Rica capitalised on the counter, again through Urena.

This American squad hasn't shown the resolve they once had under Bob Bradley or in Arena's first stint. They aren't prepared to fight from behind. Arena's new charges can only play from in front.

To seize the initiative, Arena will expect a rusty Fabian Johnson to shake off a poor performance. More importantly, Christian Pulisic must, as well. The Borussia Dortmund sensation has all the tools, pace, composure, finishing, to be everything Landon Donovan was and more. Donovan more than once saved the American's bacon. The late goal against Algeria in the World Cup perhaps the most memorable.
In San Pedro Sula, Pulisic has the opportunity to make his case. The Americans sorely need him.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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