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Soccer: U.S. team parts ways, with Brazil in sight

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Honduras shoots into the USA defensive wall during their World Cup soccer qualifying rematch Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium. The United States won, 1-0.

By Aaron Falk

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jun 19 2013 02:36PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:33PM

The red, white and blue U.S. Soccer signs have all been stripped off the walls at Rio Tinto Stadium, and the members of the men’s national team have gone their separate ways for the summer.

Jozy Altidore and Fabian Johnson, who combined for the game-winner against Honduras on Tuesday night, will go on vacation from their European clubs. As will Tottenham’s Clint Dempsey, who said he plans to do some fishing over the break. Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson, meanwhile, will head back to work in Major League Soccer. Their Seattle Sounders play in Rio Tinto on Saturday night.

But with nine points out of the last three World Cup qualifying matches, whichever way the Americans go, they’ll be sitting pretty.

"It’s easy to go on vacation and enjoy some cold beers and swimming pools and all the rest of the stuff leaving on a high," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Last summer, I think it was in Guatemala where they score the free kick [to tie the match] ... and we had a bad taste in our mouths. But this sets us up great for the autumn qualifiers. We’re in the driver’s seat now."

Thanks in part to Altidore’s international resurgence, the U.S. sits atop the hexagonal with 13 points, six clear of fourth-place Honduras. This month, the Americans won in Jamaica, dismantled Panama in front of a raucous crowd in Seattle, and finally broke down a defensive-minded Honduras squad for 1-0 victory in Sandy.

No team with 13 points through six games in the group has ever failed to reach the World Cup.

"We feel like we’ve stuck one foot in there," midfielder Graham Zusi said. "Obviously we want to kind of grab our spot as early as possible. We’re looking toward the next game to do it."

That game will come Sept. 6 in Costa Rica. The Americans beat Costa Rica earlier this year in blizzard conditions in Denver. But the U.S. has never won in Costa Rica, and will be facing a revenge-minded crowd.

"We’re not talking about the finish line," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We’ve got four games to go. Yes, it gives us a good feeling to be on top of the table. ... But we know that once we get together again in September, it’s going to be another grind. It will be back to reality."

afalk@sltrib.comTwitter: @aaronfalk

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