By Michael Lewis
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The past three CONCACAF Gold Cup finals have featured Mexico against the United States.
Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez would like to change that trend and have his team play for the coveted biennial championship. The Catrachos will have that opportunity against the U.S. at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night in the first game of a doubleheader. For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here. Mexico and Panama face off in the second match.
"I want to get to the final in Chicago, of course. We want to be ambitious," Suarez said during a Tuesday press conference at the stadium. “I believe that tomorrow is a good opportunity to change that game scheme, so it doesn't end up being a U.S.-Mexico final in Chicago. We can't be programmed to lose. We have to be programmed to win."
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, whose team has won four consecutive matches in the tournament and have outscored the opposition, 16-3, certainly won't sell the Central Americans' short.
"Does Honduras have a chance? Absolutely," he said. "We start the game nil-nil. We know it's going to be a tough game. Every game in a knockout stage, there's no favorite team. It's a 50-50 situation and you've got to be alert and awake."
Klinsmann made a point to stress how much the four-time Gold Cup champion wants to reach the final once again.
"We badly, badly want to win this competition," he said. "They are pumped up. They want to do well. An opportunity like tomorrow night, that doesn't come along very often. It's a huge, fantastic stadium. We badly want this trophy."
The Hondurans might have a say about that. They have always made life difficult for the Americans. The two teams split their World Cup qualifying encounters in the CONCACAF hexagonal earlier this year. The U.S. also squeaked past Honduras to win a well-played qualifier in San Pedro Sula in 2009 to clinch a spot at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In fact, the Catrachos are the last team to hand the U.S. a home defeat in World Cup qualifying, a 3-2 result in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2001.
"I think Honduras as a team can be described as uncomfortable," Suarez said. "Honduras has had a time of transition to give way to new faces. The attitude of these players has been great. This team, even when it loses, has had a great attitude on the field.”
Needless to say, Klinsmann certainly did not dispute those remarks and elaborated on why Honduras can be so difficult.
"Honduras is a very, very tough team because of the way they compete," he noted. "They're compact on the field both ways. They're moving forward in a 4-3-3. Defensively, they're in a 4-5-1 and they do that really well. They don't let you any space open, especially around the box.”
Klinsmann was very complimentary of Suarez’s management style and coaching ability.
"It has to do a lot with commitment, with discipline and that shows the handwriting of Luis Suarez," Klinsmann said. "He gives that team the belief to get those games done and get results and grind it. Therefore, we know what to expect. It's going to be a lot of work."
The Hondurans realize that they will have their hands full with an American attack that has produced a plethora of goals.
Asked on how to stop the U.S., Suarez replied, "There are several ways. Having possession of the ball is one of the main ones. Also, with a great defensive line. Also, by being aggressive against them. With the U.S.'s condition, with their speed and explosiveness, we have to perform that way as well."
Nothing less would be expected from either of the two great CONCACAF rivals.