Sandy • On a hot summer night, it was the United States’ hottest player who made the difference for his country.
Jozy Altidore continued his international streak Tuesday, scoring for a fourth straight match, to give the Americans a 1-0 victory over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium, pushing the U.S. to the brink of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Altidore, who is coming off a tremendous season in the Netherlands, has taken knocks for an international scoring drought that lasted nearly two years. But coach Jurgen Klinsmann said the 23-year-old has looked sharp and hungry since the first day of the national team’s latest camp.
“The biggest thing for a striker is obviously scoring,” the coach said. “It gives you confidence. It gives you energy.”
And it gives you wins.
For the U.S., Tuesday’s victory was the third straight in qualifying. The Americans now have 13 points, and sit atop the six-country “hexagonal” with four games left to play.
“You definitely get excited,” said defender Omar Gonzalez, who started alongside Matt Besler at center back for the sixth time, and helped keep the shutout. “But for me personally and the rest of the team, you can’t get overly excited. You’ve still have to get those points.”
Klinsmann and his players point to chemistry and growing familiarity as one reason for the U.S. run in June, which includes a victory in a friendly with Germany and qualifying wins in Jamaica and against Panama and Honduras.
“The big picture is that we are growing,” Klinsmann said. “Every game, especially difficult games like tonight against a very strong Honduras side, that we find ways to break them down, we find ways to make chances and that the belief is there sooner or later to put the ball in the net. The team more and more understands that it’s not just a physical grind in these games, it’s a mental one. And mentally we are getting stronger.”
The first half of Tuesday’s game kept the crowd of 20,250 uncharacteristically quiet, as the Hondurans bunkered down and left the Americans with little room to work.
“Our play in the first half wore them down a bit,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Allowed us in the second half to spread the field a bit and get in behind them more often.”
Right back Brad Evans put a header on frame in the 56th minute. Zusi, a spark plug for the Americans all night, crossed a ball into the box that Honduras had trouble clearing — even with what appeared to be an obvious handball.
In the 70th, Clint Dempsey put his head on a cross only to see it saved.
“You could smell it,” Klinsmann said. “It’s coming. It’s coming sooner or later.”
With the game still scoreless, Dempsey sent a pass into the box, which Zusi dummied on to Fabian Johnson on the right side. Johnson centered the ball to Altidore, who beat goalkeeper Noel Valladares to the far post. Finally, the sellout crowd erupted.
The U.S. won’t face another qualifier until a September trip to Costa Rica. But the team enters its extended vacation having played what Altidore called “our best five games of the last two years.”
“Between World Cup cycles, you’re always in transition,” said Klinsmann, who was brought on two years ago. “Every team is. Mexico is. We are. Every team in the world. ... It’s about finding solutions, about developing new chemistry, about introducing new players.”
For the Americans, it all appears to be clicking right now.
O Jozy Altidore scores off a pass from Fabian Johnson in the 73rd minute to lift the U.S. to the victory.
• The 23-year-old Altidore notches a goal in a fourth straight game for Team USA.
• The U.S. sits atop its six-team group in World Cup qualifying, with a break until September.
United States 1, Honduras 0
Honduras 0 0 — 0
United States 0 1 — 1
First half • None.
Second half • 1, United States, Altidore (F. Johnson), 73rd minute.
Yellow Card • Honduras, Peralta, 34th, Velasquez (81st); United States, Jones 10. Red Cards • None.
Referee • Enrico Wijngaarde, Suriname. Linesmen • Ramon Louisville, Suriname; Philippe Briere, Canada.
Attendance • 20,250.
Honduras • Noel Valladares; Jose Velasquez, Emilio Izaquirre, Arnold Peralta (Boniek Garcia, 75), Juan Pablo Montes; Roger Espinoza, Jorge Carlos, Andy Najar, Wilson Palacios; Mario Martinez (Marvin Chavez, 69), Carlo Costly (Roger Rojas, 33).
United States • Tim Howard; Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson; Jermaine Jones (Geoff Cameron, 74), Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi (Brad Davis, 74), Eddie Johnson (Edgar Castillo, 87), Clint Dempsey; Jozy Altidore.