Like the United States, most of Honduras’ national team is based “Over There” with the squad being made up of players from a blend of leagues.
There are several players who will be known to American soccer fans, whether it’s because of time spent in MLS or experience in the Premier League. The rest of the squad is filled out with domestic-based players, largely from the Olympic team that surprised many by making it to the knockout stages and leading against Brazil for a few minutes before the South Americans put them away.
So what’s the outlook like for the Bicolor (two color, like Honduras’ flag. Don’t call them El Bi. It doesn’t work.)? We’ll take a look at each position and let you know.
Goalkeeper: Longtime captain Noel Valladares will start in goal. Donis Escober held it down between the sticks for the recent Copa Centroamericana, in which Honduras were the runners-up. Valladares is the first choice, which might actually benefit the States. He is capable of pulling out some phenomenal saves but is also notorious for frequent gaffes. Understudy Escober is 33, only two years younger than Valladares, so he probably won’t be around for the next cycle. He had a 800-minute shutout streak going last spring in the Honduran league.
Defenders: The back four will be Juan Carlos Garcia at left back, Maynor Figueroa and Victor Bernardez in the center and Arnold Peralta as the right back. Left back was a spot of strength that is now turned into weakness for Honduras after Celtic left back Emilio Izaguirre injured his knee and was ruled out for the qualifier. Izaguirre is a tremendously talented player who gets forward with ease. Now, Garcia, Olimpia’s left back whose main experience with the national team came the previous time Izaguirre was injured, the 2011 Gold Cup, will be asked to fill in.
On the other flank will be Peralta, who normally plays defensive midfielder. He was linked with Toronto FC this year, and a move seemed imminent, but he elected to stay with his current club – a strange decision as Vida have no money. On the pitch, Peralta is the closest thing the Hondurans have to Jermaine Jones in the sense that a grand total of zero of the Hondurans watching the match thanks to the national holiday will raise an eyebrow should he be issued a red card in the 58th minute or a similarly poor time for a red card. Peralta is bruising and knows how to tackle, but his inexperience on the back line could be something the States can exploit. Peralta gets the spot after Brayan Beckeles struggled at the spot in the Copa Centroamericana.
The inexperience from the fullbacks is a bold contrast to the center backs. Both Figueroa, who plays with Wigan in the Premier League, and Earthquakes defender and 2012 MLS Best XI member Bernardez are old hands in defense. Figeroa is a versatile defender who also slots in at left back on occasion for club, but typically stays central for country. You know what you’re going to get from both of them: Don’t expect many mistakes. Figueroa is a Premier League-quality defender and while U.S. call-up Matt Besler was a fine choice for 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, Bernardez had a case as well.
That means Osman Chavez, the Wisla Krakow man, will be left out of the starting line-up. The big center defender has 46 caps but isn’t in the same form as the likely center-back pairing.
Midfielders: Hey! We know these guys. Roger Espinoza, the Wigan player who recently left Kansas City, anchors this unit. It’s not a misnomer to call Espinoza a box-to-box midfielder, and he should be free to roam Wednesday for Honduras. Oscar Boniek Garcia, who energized the Houston Dynamo when he joined them this season, is a talented winger, as is fellow MLS player Mario Martinez, who hit a famous goal to put the Seattle Sounders into the Western Conference Final. Both of those guys will be bearing down on the German-American fullbacks Jurgen Klinsmann is expected to start. The surprise starter is Luis Garrido, a young midfielder who recently joined Red Star Belgrade and helped Honduras get to the Hex with appearances in the latter matches of qualifying.
Jorge Claros, a defensive midfielder whose loan to Scottish club Hibernian was recently extended until the end of the season could come off the bench to clog things up.
Aldo Oviedo was the most unexpected inclusion to the side, but it would be something of a shock to see the 20-year-old win his first Honduras cap in such an important match.
Forwards: This is a question spot for los Catrachos. Honduras only mustered three goals in four matches in the Copa Centroamericana and only one of those was scored by a forward. That was Jerry Bengtson, who the New England Revolution signed this summer and made a decent impression in MLS. It’s unknown whether Luis Felipe Suarez will call on Bengston, but he’ll likely start one forward with MLS ties. Carlo Costly, once in the employ of the Dynamo and now with Greek club Veria.
Costly is about as enigmatic as they come, going more than a year without scoring in a club match and then bagging three in January. He’s similarly streaky for the national team but he has the skills to trouble defenses when he’s locked in and that’s probably enough for him to make the starting XI. The two domestic-based strikers, Georgie Welcome and Roger Rojas, haven’t scored often when playing for Honduras, but both are talented players who have had looks from larger clubs outside the country.
So, here’s what we’ll probably see, though it’s the Hex, so there will probably be a surprise or two. Yes, that’s a disclaimer. (Update: got 10 of 11 right. Not bad.)