Jerry Bengtson took advantage of a defensive mix-up to score the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute, and Honduras rallied to beat the United States, 2-1, Wednesday in the opener of the final qualifying round for next year’s World Cup.
Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the 36th minute but the Americans, using a new-look defense that featured Omar Gonzalez and Timmy Chandler, gave up the lead when Juan Carlos Garcia tied the score with a bicycle kick in the 40th at San Pedro Sula.
Bengtson, who plays for Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, scored the winner when defender Geoff Cameron and goalkeeper Tim Howard both went for a pass by Maynor Figueroa to Oscar Boniek Garcia. That allowed Garcia to tap the ball across to Bengtson for a shot into an open net, and Gonzalez was too late to challenge him.
“Overall, there were too many mistakes done and too many players today just didn’t reach their usual potential,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They stayed behind their own game and therefore, it’s really difficult coming away with a win here if you’re not having everybody 100 percent at their limits.”
Three members of Seattle Sounders FC were in uniform. Forward Eddie Johnson started for the United States and played into the 58th minute, while midfielder/defender Brad Evans did not play. Midfielder Mario Martinez went the full 90 minutes for Honduras.
Playing without Landon Donovan, a veteran of three World Cups who is unsure whether to continue his career, the 28th-ranked U.S. was under pressure for much of the match. No. 59 Honduras had the better chances, forcing Howard into several difficult saves
Gonzalez had a chance to redeem himself, getting his head on a corner kick by Graham Zusi in the final seconds of stoppage time. But his shot from the 6-yard box sailed well above the crossbar.
The U.S., which had been 12-3-3 against Honduras, lost its final-round opener for the first time in five games since the “hexagonal” format was adopted in qualifying for the 1998 tournament. The Americans are seeking their seventh consecutive trip to soccer’s showcase tournament.
Klinsmann used his three substitutes in the early part of the second half, inserting Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan and Zusi for Danny Williams, Johnson and Jermaine Jones.
“I think with Maurice Edu, things kind of calmed down a bit. He cleaned more up. He played simple balls. We kept more possession. That’s what we were asking for,” Klinsmann said.
Qualifying resumes next month when the U.S. plays host to Costa Rica on March 22 at Commerce City, Colo., then plays four days later at Mexico. The U.S. and Honduras meet again on June 18, and there have been indications that game could be played at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Sounders FC will resume preseason training Friday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. … The Sounders announced details of their annual Kickoff Luncheon, which will be held Feb. 28 at CenturyLink Field. Information is available at SoundersFC.com/kickoffluncheon.
Staff writer Don Ruiz contributed to this report.