It was listless. It was lethargic. It was like watching a buffalo making its way across the Great Plains. I don’t mean one of those angry, charging buffalo that will do all sorts of damage to your car, I mean one with all the time in the world, slowly making his way across what he has no idea is this place we call America. That was the United States in its 1-0 victory over Honduras. Just like that lonesome buffalo’s trek, it had majestic moments and the final result left you with a sense of pride in the US-of-A that is hard to explain.
An goal always seemed to be coming for the Americans, but by the time Jozy Altidore found the back of the net — his fourth in as many games — there was an air of choking doubt hanging about that it might not actually happen. Opening stages where the USMNT seemed to simply be feeling out Honduras transitioned seamlessly into a labored slog. Promising chances came to not, whether through the heroics of goalkeeper Noel Valladares, blindness of the referee, or a chronic inability to find the right finish.
But that, among many things, was forgotten with just one goal.
Altidore took yet another chance well, getting the service that he had been starved of during his epic goal drought. Suddenly, form carries over from one game to the next and from club to country. Altidore saved the USMNT another embarrassment with his strike and made it a perfect nine points in June, but he didn’t do it alone. Steve Fogarty and I watched the game live — I even ran it back on Wednesday, you know, for funsies — and graded every performance in Sandy, UT.
As always, all grades are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 being reserved for this miss by former USMNTer Robbie Findley.
Tim Howard: 6.5
Made the one big save he had to on Andy Najar and effectively operated a no-fly zone in his area when he had to. Once again, the least to the USMNT worries.
Brad Evans: 6.5
Far and away his best competitive USMNT turn at right back, remaining solid at times and even doing more to get forward this go ’round. Could have scored off a header — and probably should have done better, truth be told — but the Soccer Gods intervened to let him know he’d already gotten his one.
Omar Gonzalez: 4.5
Almost as much talent as frustration. Almost. Najar wouldn’t have had the window to shoot on net if Gonzalez was more assertive. Also was directly responsible for a giveaway that led to Jermaine Jones professional yellow card, all but guaranteeing the Schalke midfielder will miss a game through suspension before the end of qualifying — there is no way he can make it that long without another card to his name. That said, he’s still impressive with the ball in the air.
Matt Besler: 7.5
Remember when Gonzalez was Batman and Besler was Robin? The more the two play together, the clearer it becomes that the Sporting Kansas City man is actually the rock that the back line is built upon. One bad giveaway doesn’t change the fact he is the most consistent and steady defender in the side, one who has made enough overly timely chances that I have to abandon the pretense that it might be some degree of luck. He’s not flashy, but he’ll always get the job done. Wait, does that lack of flash actually make him Robin? I’m confused. Let’s move on.
Fabian Johnson: 8
Who would have thought that Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley would qualify as an embarrassment of riches at left back? Well, that’s now what Jürgen Klinsmann has. Another assist to Jozy Altidore and was a constant threat getting forward, playing dangerous balls into the area. Was less omnipresent offensively in the second, but still popped up to help out on the goal and was very capable defensively — as he should be considering it was his natural position for so long
Michael Bradley: 7
Michael Bradley. Doing Michael Bradley things. That is all.
Jermaine Jones: 5
After Geoff Cameron’s transcendent turn again Panama, Jones looked human in his return from a concussion. Still a destroyer, but his passing lacked direction and he had far too many turnovers. Continually seemed to be searching for understanding with Bradley as to who should stay home and who should take on the enterprising runs forward. Even in one of his weaker moments, remains a valuable force in the middle of the park.
Graham Zusi: 7.5
“Landon Donovan Lite” quickly becoming “Graham Zusi Heavy” in recent games. His crossing was once again on point, his defensive help spot on, and his decision to leave the ball for Fabian Johnson in the goal build-up borderline savant. First half was generally forgettable, but second was genuinely impeccable.
Clint Dempsey: 5.5
Another game without a Dempsey goal, but still plenty of good chances. Continued to work hard and play with undeterred aggression, just what you want from the captain. This hasn’t been his best stretch for the USMNT, but he is still an irreplaceable cog in the side.
Eddie Johnson: 4
The consummate professional finisher lacked said finish during his best chance and his first touch and control in the others. Couldn’t generate the spark that his best performances tend to ooze. Still feel he will be better suited as a super-sub in the long run.
Jozy Altidore: 6.5
Remember when Jozy went O-for-2012? No, me neither. Starved of service at times in the first, but better in the second. Nearly broke the deadlock earlier — with a finish that looked mighty similar to his goal, I might add — but ruled offside. Worked hard in hold up play in ways that a younger Jozy could only dream of.
Geoff Cameron: 6
Made his case for a permanent spot in the midfield, even if taking Jones out in the long run seems like a tough sell. Nearly played a carbon copy of his assist against Panama, even if it led to nothing in the long run.
Brad Davis: 6.5
Thought this would be the game where his mythical left foot paid off, but came on just a minute too late. Won a dangerous free kick, earning him the extra half-point in grading over fellow sub Cameron.
Edgar Castillo: N/A
This game went from this being his chance to shine and show he belonged to a “thanks for playing” cameo that wasn’t long enough to warrant a grade. Ouch.
Rio Tinto Stadium crowd: Not Seattle
I know the madness that is Cascadia can be tough to compete with, but come on Utah, get it together.