The United States men's national team was struck low by a 2-0 upset at the hands of Costa Rica on Friday, and it was almost struck lower against Honduras on Tuesday.
Following the loss to Costa Rica, the USMNT needed a result to keep from sinking themselves into a must-win scenario during the final slate of World Cup qualifiers coming up next month. An early defensive lapse and sloppy play in attack against the Honduras in San Pedro Sula nearly made the nightmare a reality, as the U.S. trailed 1-0 for most of the match.
But the Americans were able to dig deep and power through their dry spell. With a draw needed to keep the squad in third-place in the CONCACAF hexagonal -- which comes with a berth to the 2018 World Cup in Russia -- Bobby Wood scored on a mad scramble in front of the Honduras goal in the 85th minute to give the Americans a 1-1 draw and a desperately needed point.
With the result, the U.S. sits level with Honduras at nine points apiece, but holds the advantage of third-place thanks to goal differential. The U.S. may not be in third for long, though, as Panama sits with eight points and a chance for three more against Trinidad & Tobago on Monday night. The Americans still have work to do, and will need results when they finishes their Hex run in early October against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago
The Honduras match featured an active start for the USMNT. Jozy Altidore was forced to sit out because of an accumulation of yellow cards. But his replacement, Jordan Morris, nearly got the Americans on the board early with a shot from 18 yards out in the third minute. The shot went wide and the U.S. was unable to take an early advantage.
It took the USMNT 17 more minutes to get its first shot on goal. Clint Dempsey, who remains tied with Landon Donovan as the USMNT's top all-time goal-scorer, missed a chip after Christian Puisic fed him a ball in the box.
Although there was no end product, the U.S. looked lively. But just as it happened in the loss to Costa Rica on Friday, a major defensive lapse gifted Honduras a goal that had the potential to spell doom for the States' World Cup hopes.
In the 27th minute, Romell Quioto burnt through the gap between Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi on the right side of defense. Gonzalez attempted a clumsy clearance, but got just a small touch on the ball. Quioto regained his composure a finished with a curler around Brad Guzan for a 1-0 lead.
Honduras was able to make hay all match long out of the space between America's central defenders and fullbacks. Although this was a different defense than the one deployed against Costa Rica, the problems were the same. Slow, uncommitted defending leads to goals. It was only exacerbated by the fact that the two fullbacks are converted midfielders.
In the 62nd minute, coach Bruce Arena finally made the wise decision to take off both of his fullbacks and redeploy the formation into a 3-5-2. It was an effective change. The U.S. wasn't only more assertive in attack, it was also a bit more stable in defense without the liability of Beasley and Zusi on the flanks. Eventually, with enough persistence, the U.S. found its breakthrough via Wood and escaped San Pedro Sula with the draw.
We've seen match-in and match-out that this team's kryptonite is defending the counter. And the most frustrating part is that there is no apparent solution. This doesn't seem to be an issue with the coaching. It's an issue with the players.
These last few results make another fact obvious: The problems experienced during the end of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as manager were far from only his doing. Yes, his poor personnel decisions cost the team on occasion. But even when the players are in a perfect position to succeed, as they were on Friday and Tuesday, they lack that something extra.
The USMNT plays to the level of their competition. Sometimes that means a better-than-expected on the road result to a good Mexico team. But in CONCACAF, more frequently it means a disappointing display against a Central American minnow. Arena and his players must figure out how to get up for each and every match or more disappointments are on the horizon, whether that be in the final stages of World Cup qualification or next summer in Russia.
Cy Brown writes about golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.