- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

U.S. 2, HONDURAS 1

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras The U.S. national team won an epic World Cup qualification match, weathering an imposing series of attacks by Honduras and parlaying a brilliant free kick by Clint Mathis in the 87th minute into a 2-1 victory last night.

The unbeaten U.S. team, previously winless in World Cup qualification matches in Central America dating to 1989, moved into the top spot in the six-nation group.

Earnie Stewart, who stepped into a central midfield role in place of the injured Claudio Reyna, took advantage of a flat Honduran defense with a superb 33rd-minute strike, but the Americans surrendered a 60th-minute equalizer as Honduras pressured nearly the entire second half before a crowd of 45,000 in the packed Estadio Olimpico.

Mathis worked a give-and-go with Chris Armas before finding Stewart alone in the middle of the field with a perfectly placed pass. Stewart wasted no time in curling a 30-yard, right-footed shot into the upper left side of the Honduran goal, well out of the reach of keeper Noel Valladares.

"To captain the team on my birthday, to get a goal on my birthday and winning on my birthday, you couldn't ask for any more than that," Stewart said.

Four minutes after Stewart's strike, Carlos Pavon nearly tied the game with a well-taken shot from 22 yards that was deflected by U.S. defender Carlos Llamosa.

The U.S. team took the 1-0 lead into the second half, where Mathis nearly doubled it only nine minutes after intermission, forcing Valladares to stretch to his left to punch away a blazing shot.

The Hondurans would come close to knotting the score in a 52nd-minute goal-mouth scramble. Milton Nunez forced Brad Friedel to make a save near his left post, then hit the rebound off the post. The ball came back to substitute Jairo Martinez, who shot over the bar.

With fatigue setting in and the Hondurans pressing the attack, the Americans conceded a 60th-minute equalizer to Julio Cesar de Leon, who got a short pass from Jose Luis Pineda before hitting a strike from a difficult angle into the top left corner.

In the 67th minute, Pavon nearly put Honduras in control, curling a 32-yard free kick just over the bar.

The U.S. team, which has not won a qualification match in Central America since 1989 when it beat El Salvador, got the better of an often-anxious and defensively suspect Honduran squad in the first half.

The Americans (2-0) have six points and are alone atop the group, followed by Costa Rica, which has four points after defeating Trinidad and Tobago 3-0 last night. Mexico and Jamaica each have three points.

"Obviously getting a point on the road would have been a great result," Stewart said. "But to win is even better. To see 55,000 people supporting their boys in this tremendous environment, it was a really fun game."

The top three nations advance to the World Cup finals next year in Japan and South Korea.

Making five personnel changes from the team that beat Mexico last month, U.S. coach Bruce Arena again was up to task when it came to dealing with a slew of injuries.

The Americans were without Brian McBride (knee), Reyna (groin), Eddie Pope (toe), Landon Donovan (broken ribs) and Joe-Max Moore (calf). That meant reserve players had to respond to the challenge of dealing with a Honduran team at the packed Estadio Olimpico in front of vocal fans bathed in the blue and white national colors.

"We knew with all of the changes we could not attack as fluidly," Arena said. "We had to keep it tight in the center of the field to keep the Hondurans from getting crosses in. Tonight our defense was best part of our game.

"Obviously to defeat good teams like Mexico and Honduras and to get three points on the road and six points after two games is an achievement."


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