BRENT LATHAM - Sunday, January 24, 2010
A short-handed American team fell to fellow World Cup qualifiers Honduras in Carson Saturday night, 3-1, as central defender Jimmy Conrad was sent off after only 17 minutes.

Coach Bob Bradley hoped to use the match against the Catrachos, which followed an intensive three week camp in Southern California, to sort out some of the fringe contenders for the World Cup roster. With only a handful of friendly dates available this year, the game was an important match for all but a few of the starters.

The Americans went with speed up front, pairing Jeff Cunningham and Robbie Findley in tandem in the on-going audition to replace the injured Charlie Davies. The midfield was centered on Sasha Kljestan and Kyle Beckerman, with Benny Feilhaber and Robbie Rogers on the flanks. That group had much of the possesion in the early going, but found the Honduran back line difficult to break down.

The Hondurans looked dangerous coming forward, as their front line easily outpaced the American center pairing of Conrad and Chad Marshall. In just the sixth minute, Conrad saw a yellow for a professional foul as he hauled down a Honduran attacker during a counter attack following a corner.

That would prove crucial ten minutes later, when the Hondurans broke forward again. Jerry Palacios sent a long ball across the area for Carlos Pavon, who raced in and fired a shot high over Troy Perkins' goal. But trailing the play, Palacios had made his way into the box, where a Conrad tug sent him sprawling, and inspired Mexican referee Benito Archundia to drastically alter the game by sending Conrad off with a second yellow. Pavon dispatched the penalty for a 1-0 lead, and the Hondurans were on their way.

To compensate, down a goal and a man, Bradley moved Jonathan Bornstein to the middle of the defense, and sent Rogers to the back line. The three man midfield managed to control much of the possesion for the next half hour, without doing much damage, but it was the Central Americans who doubled their lead before halftime.

Five minutes before the intermission, Pavon collected a pass on the right wing and curled a cross into the American area, where Palacios dipped in around a hopelessly stagnant Marshall, and headed home from close range.

To start the second half, Bradley sent on central defender Clarence Goodson for Cunningham. Rogers nearly threw the U.S. a lifeline with a laser from 30 yards which the post kep out, but things then got worse for the US in the 53rd minute, when Goodson stepped up to mark Palacios at the top of the box, leaving Kansas City Wizard Roger Espinoza free to streak in, receive a pass, and finish past Perkins.

Down by three, Bradley rang in the changes on the hour mark, sending on Heath Pearce, Brad Davis, Conor Casey, and Alejandro Bedoya, who was making his international debut. With the Hondurans content to protect their lead, having been unable to beat the Americans for eight years, the U.S. poured forward.

The initiative paid a dividend in the 70th minute when Goodson powered home a Davis corner, despite a probably foul on Honduran 'keeper Denis Escober, which Archundia failed to spot.

The Americans had several more excellent opportunites to close the gap, including a Davis free kick in the closing minutes which Eecober did well to punch away, after Findlay won a dangerous free kick at the top of the box. In stoppage time, Casey fired wide with his left foot after a Findlay header put him in alone on goal, then a winding Bedoya free kick was slapped away by Escober as time expired.

Bradley, having learned more about who is not fit for World Cup selection than who is, will go back to the drawing borad ahead of a late February clash with El Salvador in Tampa. He will then finally have his full squad available for a March showdown with World Cup qualifier Holland in Amsterdam.