- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

CHICAGO | There’s no Tim Howard, Landon Donovan or Carlos Bocanegra. Steve Cherundolo, Charlie Davies and Benny Feilhaber are back in Europe.

So much for Honduras being able to use its scouting reports from the last two games against the United States - even the one that’s only two weeks old.

Honduras and the Americans play for the third time in less than two months in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals Thursday night. Most times that would mean Honduras would know the U.S. lineup as well as its own. But the Americans have shuffled their personnel so much it’s like the Hondurans get a new opponent each time.

“This is a very good national team,” Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda said Wednesday as his team practiced at Soldier Field. “The men that come in, even though they don’t have the experience, they’re very good players and they’ve all transformed into solid players.

“It doesn’t make it any easier for us,” he added. “They’re players that want to fight hard to please their head coach.”

Costa Rica and Mexico play in the second semifinal, with the winners meeting for the title Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Americans have been so busy this summer, just listening to their schedule is tiring. It started June 3 with a qualifier in Costa Rica and continued three days later with the first game against Honduras - also at Soldier Field. Then came the Confederations Cup in South Africa, where the United States upset top-ranked Spain on its way to the final.

There was barely time to repack the suitcases before it was off to Seattle, where the United States opened defense of its Gold Cup title July 4. Four games later - including a victory over Honduras in group play - the Americans are here, playing for a chance to get back to the final and win their third straight title in this tournament.

Because the schedule is such a grind, coach Bob Bradley did an almost complete overhaul of his roster for the Gold Cup. He let most of his top players return to their MLS teams or take time off ahead of the European season and is instead using the tournament as a chance to look at his young players - some of whom just might find their way onto the roster if the United States makes it to the World Cup in South Africa next year.

The Americans likely will be without one of their few veterans, defender Jimmy Conrad, still recovering from a concussion sustained in Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Panama. Michael Parkhurst, who had gone back to his Danish club after the first round, was recalled to help shore up the defense.

“It’s been exciting to be able to showcase my talent on this level and to play with this group of guys in front of the coaching staff that will be the coaching staff for the World Cup,” said Stuart Holden, who made his U.S. debut with the senior national team in the Gold Cup opener, a 4-0 rout of Grenada.

“If we do win the tournament, then that means people have done well and it shows well on them,” Holden added. “If I can be one of those guys that’s performed well consistently through the tournament and helped us win the Gold Cup, I think that puts me kind of in the forefront and forces the coaches to have a look at you going forward in the World Cup qualifications.”

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