The tone for Tuesday's match was set long before kickoff. The U.S. needed a win to all but secure its berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Honduras was simply looking to keep its limping campaign afloat.
For 72 minutes, a subdued pro-American crowd patiently waited for the moment that was certainly coming. In the 73rd minute, a Jozy Altidore goal cemented three points for the Yanks, keeping them at the top of the hexagonal table with four matches remaining.
"It's been exactly what we expected," head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It's been very difficult to play through their wall, but we found ways. We told them at halftime to keep pushing, to raise the tempo, to find more Jozy (Altidore) and Clint (Dempsey). A good team finds ways to score, and that's what they did. They deserve a huge compliment."
America's victory came as a result of physical play, dominant possession, terrific passing and a little luck. The Yanks played from a 4-5-1 formation, with Dempsey attacking from the midfield and Michael Bradley holding.
The U.S. threatened to score multiple times before Altidore struck paydirt. Honduras, on the other hand, was relegated to the counterattack game, doing its best to take advantage of American mistakes.
Here's a breakdown of how each position group of the U.S. Men's National Team fared in Tuesday's match, beginning with lead striker Jozy Altidore.
Starter: Jozy Altidore
Altidore has two jobs. The first is to get on the end of passes and apply the finishing touch, a feat he accomplished in the 73rd minute for the match's only goal. The second is to lay the ball off when he gets it in a position when he can do nothing with it. He also performed that task admirably.
Altidore provided a massive physical presence at the top of the American formation, and in many ways served as the USA's lead enforcer. He also checked back numerous times to regain possession after it had been lost, frequently leaving his spot at the point to help the U.S. in the midfield.
Altidore has now scored four goals in four international games for the United States Men's National Team, a feat few have ever accomplished wearing the stars and bars.
"It's not only that he's scored those goals," Klinsmann said of Altidore. "The work that he does for the team is awesome. He shifts the defenders to the side. He chases them down. He wins balls back. That energy from Jozy is very important to our team. We always told him from a coaching perspective that it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of adjustment, it takes the right moment to be there, it takes hunger, and the energy he's put in over the last four or five games has been tremendous."
It's impossible to provide Altidore with any negative marks given his goal and the overall lack of service from the USA midfield. He made solid runs into space and got free of the defense regularly. He was clearly bigger and stronger than Honduras' depleted back line, and when the moment of truth came, Altidore was clutch, giving the Yanks the goal that all but sends the U.S. into the 2014 World Cup.
Man of the match: Jozy Altidore
Starters: Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey (Capt.), Jermaine Jones, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi
Substitutions: 87' Edgar Castillo for Eddie Johnson, 74' Geoff Cameron for Jermaine Jones, 74' Edgar Castillo for Graham Zusi
The midfield was extraordinarily physical in Tuesday's tilt. It also did a terrific job of maintaining possession and quickly regaining it on the rare occasion when it was lost. By the end of the match, the U.S. had held more than 60 percent possession over its opponent.
"When you're at home, you're expected to have the majority of possession," midfielder Graham Zusi said of the match. "We knew there was a possibility that they would try to lock it down. We knew our possession and passing was key to trying to open them up as much as possible. Those little passes led to our goal and our win."
The midfield could have improved, however, on limiting its own over-the-top attacks and moving the ball into space on the ground. Indeed, that's how the U.S. finally broke through: on the ground.
The long attack was employed very frequently, with the best chance coming on a 70th-minute header from Zusi to Clint Dempsey that was just parried off the line by Honduras' goalkeeper, Noel Valladares.
Make no mistake — Honduras was playing for a draw. Every one of its opportunities came because of an American mistake. Fortunately, there were few enough mistakes to keep the ball on Honduras' end of the pitch and far away from danger.
Starters: Omar Gonzales, Matt Besler, Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson
Given Honduras' decision to stack players behind the ball and push the counter attack, it's not surprising that this group was only put into a handful of difficult situations, the most notable of which came immediately before halftime when Fabian Johnson committed a terrible turnover at midfield that resulted in one of Honduras' extremely rare opportunities.
Mostly, the back line was employed in the business of distribution, looping in crosses and threading the ball through tight spaces to the attacking midfielders, a feat they accomplished adequately. Although they looked shaky in the first half, by the end of the match, they looked nigh unto impregnable.
"I think our back line is coming along," Klinsmann said. "It will never be perfect; there is no back line that is perfect. It helps them to go through those grinds. That's what they're going through right now, a period where they learn to think faster, to pass faster to decide everything faster that's required on an international level."
That said, any time the ball was played into dangerous situations, the American defense swooped in and quickly cleaned up the danger. Johnson also redeemed himself by serving the pass that assisted Altidore's goal.
Starter: Tim Howard
Tim Howard spend 85 minutes of this match tending an empty line under no pressure. The other five minutes — the ones that required action — were brilliant.
Following Fabian Johnson's disastrous giveaway near midfield in the 45th minute, Howard delivered a fantastic save in a one-on-one situation, the only such series for Honduras all night.
Howard was also strongly involved in the attack, pushing plays up the wings immediately after making saves.
One such play was the goal that might have been. In the 59th minute following a Howard save, Howard heaved the ball up the left flank to Eddie Johnson. Eventually the ball worked its way into Honduras' penalty area, landed at Altidore's feet, and in the back of the net. Unfortunately, Altidore was drawn two yards offside immediately preceding the pass.
Regardless, Howard's ability to make both offensive and defensive plays from his back line is a weapon valuable in any team's World Cup qualifying arsenal.