Amado Guevara helped to make life miserable for the U.S. in a WCQ at RFK Stadium in 2002. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
With the United States hosting Honduras in a vital World Cup qualifier in San Jose, Calif. Friday, we’re looking back on the time the Central American side surprised the Americans in the competition some 16 not-so-sweet years ago. FrontRowSoccer.com Editor Michael Lewis covered the game in which Honduras defeated the United States, 3-2, in 2001. This is his account of the match. Amado Guevara, who played for the MetroStars/Red Bulls from 2003-2006, ran the Honduran show from the midfield.
By Michael Lewis
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States continued its tailspin in its quest to reach the 2002 World Cup, dropping a 3-2 loss to an inspired Honduras side on Sept. 1, 2001.
The Honduras match started at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. in the morning — a Saturday morning at RFK Stadium. A morning kickoff may sound like gamesmanship to try to get the upper hand. But with ESPN having the TV contract, it was the only time the game could be televised on the first college football Saturday of the season.
At times the Americans played as though they did not get a wake-up call, sleep walking on defense and missing a key penalty kick as well in a devastating loss.
The two flank defenders — Steve Cherundolo (right) and David Regis (left) — were the culprits defensively, allowing Honduran attackers loads of space and room to run down the wings as midfielder Amado Guevara controlled the attack from the middle.
“The breakdowns defensively were atrocious,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. “What an atrocious last 20 minutes of the first half and first 15 minutes of the second half.”
Earnie Stewart, who performed well as the playmaker in Claudio Reyna’s absence and had both American scores, missed out on a hat-trick. His penalty kick was saved in the 43rd minute, which dramatically switched the game’s momentum.
Instead of enjoying a 2-1 halftime lead, the U.S. saw its fortunes sink early in the second half when Carlos Pavon converted a penalty of his own for the visitors before 54,032 at RFK Stadium.
“It’s not so much missing a penalty kick,” Stewart said. “It’s when you look at your teammates and see that you’ve let them down.”
Stewart gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute after putting in a 15-yard rebound of a save by goalkeeper Noel Valladares. But Milton Nunez, a 5-5 speedster with a nose for the goal and who gave the defense headaches all game, equalized with the first of his two goals in the 28th minute.
Stewart had his big chance in the 43rd minute, after Milton Reyes took down Jovan Kirovski. Stewart, who recently had missed a PK for his Dutch club, NAC Breda, aimed for the lower right corner but a diving Valladares knocked it away.
“I made a choice at the last moment to hit it to the right. Stupid,” he said. “The first thought they say is the best thought. At that moment we had some momentum going. Right after that we made a couple of mistakes in midfield, losing a couple of balls and they went on the run.”
The U.S. was never the same as the Hondurans converted a penalty referee Mauricio Navarro of Canada awarded after Jeff Agoos tripped Reyes. Pavon beat keeper Brad Friedel to the lower left for a 2-1 lead in the 53rd minute.
“The penalty kick was a questionable call,” Arena said. “It looked like a shoulder charge. It’s just classic. The referee is going to have a make-up call.”
The Honduran attackers didn’t need any help, making the defense look as though it was playing in slow motion before Nunez struck from 12 yards in the 77th minute.
“Regis broke down on a bunch of plays,” Arena said. “He probably had some breakdowns that led to every goal. That needs to be addressed.”
Several qualifying streaks were snapped with the U.S.’s second consecutive loss, the first time they had happened since 1980. The Americans also saw their 19-game home qualifying unbeaten streak go down the drain, losing for the first time in 16 years since May, 1985. They also allowed three goals in a home match for the first time since 1960.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Preki Radosavlijevic, who replaced Cherundolo in the 67th minute. “We have to regroup and try to get a result in Costa Rica. We can’t panic. We just have to play good soccer and win one or two more games.”