By Michael Lewis
Whenever Honduras and the United States tussle in a World Cup qualifier, there's a good chance the game be a close encounter with plenty of drama, unlikely heroes and possibly a goat or two.
The last time these two teams met in San Pedro Sula, the U.S. squeaked out a 3-2 triumph that had a little bit of everything, a result that boosted the Americans into the 2010 World Cup as Conor Casey netted his only two international goals. The Hondurans managed to book a berth to South Africa several days later.
There is not as much at stake this time, as this encounter at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula kicks off the CONCACAF hexagonal round for both teams at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, and is not near the end of the competition.
But every point counts, whether it is February or October.
"The spotlight comes on even brighter, the margin for error is that much smaller," U.S. central midfielder Michael Bradley said. "There is that much more at stake.
"As a player, these are the kind of games you dream of playing in growing up, playing in qualifying matches like this, representing your country with a chance of going to the World Cup on the line. There's a group of us who know what to expect. For the others, they'll learn quickly. That's what it's all about, stepping on the field, sticking together, making sure whatever we have to do to get a good result."
The U.S. might be considered one of the favorites to earn a spot in next year's World Cup in Brazil, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann is taking nothing for granted against one of the most talented, if not the most talented, side in Central America.
"There is no easy way, not for Mexico, not for the United States, not for anybody," Klinsmann said. "You have to get your points, you have to win your games and you have to get the job done. You have to go into every game with the expectation that it's going to be difficult, that it will challenge you to the limits. That's our approach: take it seriously every time you go out onto the field, very seriously, and be very awake."
The Hondurans are experiencing their golden age of football. They reached the World Cup for the second time in 2010 and competed in the past two Olympics, losing in the 2012 quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist Brazil.
"We have a lot of respect for this team," Klinsmann said. "I think they've done very well over the last couple of years. Obviously qualifying for South Africa, challenging us and Mexico in this region and having players overseas with more presence than ever before."
Klinsmann got an opportunity to watch the Hondurans in South Africa World Cup.
"The only thing they were lacking was the confidence to beat one of the bigger nations, to really believe in it at the end of the day and playing-wise they've done well," he said. "You have strikers up front in [Jerry] Bengtson who can always harm an opponent. You have [Roger] Espinoza in midfield who has a lot of creativity and a wonderful touch, they have a very strong defense physically so that's why we respect them, that's why we've done our homework."
Klinsmann wound up learning and doing plenty of homework last year as he was introduced to the challenges of CONCACAF qualifying in the semifinal round as his team posted a 1-1-1 road record against Jamaica (2-1 loss), Guatemala (1-1 draw) and Antigua & Barbuda (2-1 win).
"Every continent has its tricky parts and difficult environments and San Pedro Sula definitely has its own difficult environment, but those are challenges that players need," he said. "They need to go through those games, they need to prove themselves and they need to find ways, on the field, to get the job done. I will always welcome these opportunities, these matches, because that's what it's all about, going to these places that are not your home, cozy environment and proving a point."
The U.S. will have an opportunity to bring home some points on Wednesday.