World Cup Qualifier: USMNT vs Honduras Preview, Picks & Predictions

Clint DempseyThe U.S. Men’s national soccer team need to get their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign back on track when entertaining Honduras at the Avaya Stadium in San Jose (10.30pm ET Friday on Fox Sports 1).

USMNT sit bottom of the six-team group after two defeats in their first two matches, with four points separating them from the automatic qualification spots and three points between them and Honduras in the inter-confederation play-off placing.

The second of those losses, a 4-0 reverse against Costa Rica, led to the sacking of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, with Bruce Arena – who previously coached the national team between 1998 and 2006 – now in charge heading into the latest round of qualifiers in the CONCACAF region. There are still eight games left to play and 24 points up for grabs, but another setback against Honduras would leave the United States facing an uphill struggle to reach the competition in Russia next summer. The hosts will therefore be under pressure throughout this game and it will be interesting to see how the players react to such a situation.

Honduras are currently occupying fourth place in the standings after a 1-0 defeat by Panama and a 3-1 triumph over Trinidad and Tobago. The Central American nation have qualified for the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil – they also took part in the 1982 edition in Spain – and are looking to make it three in a row in Russia. There is still plenty of work to be do in what is a tough Hexagonal this time around. Colombian boss Jorge Luis Pinto, who previously managed Costa Rica between 2011 and 2014, will be expected to finish in the top four, and Friday’s match could be key to their chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Arena has a significant amount of absentees to contend with ahead of this game, with Bobby Wood (back), Timothy Chandler (suspension), Brad Guzan (wife giving birth), Fabian Johnson (hamstring), Jermaine Jones (suspension) and DeAndre Yedlin (thigh) all set to miss out. Arena employed a 4-1-3-2 formation in his only match at the helm so far, a 1-0 victory over Jamaica in a friendly, but could switch to a 4-4-2 on this occasion. Expect Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top, Christian Pulisic out wide, Bob Bradley in midfield and a central defensive pairing of Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron and Hertha Berlin’s John Brooks.

Honduras’ squad of players includes United States-based stars Alberth Elis (Houston Dynamo), Maynor Figueroa (FC Dallas), Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City) and Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo). Then there is Anthony Lozano, Emilio Izaguirre and Andy Najar, who all ply their trade in Europe. Pinto prefers a 4-3-3 setup and will probably employ that system at the Avaya Stadium, while the emphasis will be on sitting deep, ceding possession and hitting the United States on the counter-attack with quick breaks forward whenever control of the ball changes hands.

Team USA have had a tough start to the final round of World Cup qualifying, but this preview believes that it is worth backing them to return to winning ways in San Jose on Friday night. The long list of absentees has undoubtedly made things more difficult for Arena ahead of his first competitive match in charge of the country for over a decade, but the starting XI he selects should still be good enough to get the three points against Los Catrachos.