U.S. soccer team in fine form since loss to Honduras
Soccer • Having shaken off February defeat, Americans surging in bid for World Cup spot.
Published: June 16, 2013 01:45PM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:33PM
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U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) stands after an international friendly soccer match after the game at RFK Stadium Sunday, June 2, 2013, in Washington. U.S. won 4-3. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Tim Howard remembers the scorching heat of San Pedro Sula, the blistering bicycle kick that leveled the match and the tap-in that won it.

But none of that matters much to the U.S. goalkeeper right now.

“I don’t think looking back and using a game like February is going to inspire us,” Howard said, as he and the rest of the national team prepare for a World Cup qualifying rematch with Honduras on Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium. “We’re in good form based on what we’re doing now.”

And what the U.S. has been doing is winning. So far in June, the national team has topped Germany in friendly action and earned critical World Cup qualifying wins against Jamaica and Panama to put the U.S. atop the six-country group.

“The last games we won and we came together and just got more confident,” said midfielder and defender Fabian Johnson. “I think everybody can see this is a different vibe.”

With 10 points through five games, the U.S. is two points clear of Costa Rica and Mexico (with a game in hand on the latter) and three points clear of Honduras. It’s the first time the United States has owned possession of first place at the halfway point of the so called hexagonal since 2002.

In February, Clint Dempsey gave the U.S. a first-half lead in Honduras. But Juan Carlos Garcia’s bicycle kick tied the game in the 40th minute, and Jerry Bengston won it for Honduras with a 79th-minute tap-in on an open net.

Since then, a more consistent lineup from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and greater confidence from his players have helped turn the U.S. fortunes around.

“I think it all starts with attitude,” said center back Matt Besler. “I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We believe in each other. We’ve been focused on our attitude and making sure that’s right and concentrated.”

“World Cup qualifying is never easy, you know,” added U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley. “There are twists and turns along the way. For us, losing the first game in Honduras, we certainly weren’t happy about it. But we didn’t let it throw us for a loop. We kept our focus and we knew there were a lot of games to be played.”

The U.S. will be without DaMarcus Beasley on Tuesday, due to yellow card accumulation. But the team will have the option of starting midfielder Graham Zusi, who missed last week’s 2-0 win over Panama due to a suspension.

Honduras will be without key players as well, including Bengston, who left his national team suddenly last week and rejoined the New England Revolution.

But soccer fans in Salt Lake should know the danger of others on the Honduras roster, including Seattle Sounder Mario Martinez, who put Real Salt Lake out of last season’s MLS playoffs with a magnificent goal.

“We know from experience with our team that, at times when you’re missing certain players, the next guys to step in are motivated and do a very good job,” Bradley said.

The U.S. came into this stretch of qualifying with the goal of taking nine points in three matches, Bradley said. And recent history favors the home team; the U.S. is 22-0-2 in home qualifying since 2001.

“The idea is to come here in front of a great crowd and finish off this part of the job,” Bradley said.

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk

USA vs. Honduras

P Tuesday, 7 p.m.

At Rio Tinto Stadium TV • ESPN