ST. Paul, Minn.—The wind chill was negative 8 degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff on Wednesday and dropped as the game progressed, the United States dominated Honduras, who is last in the qualifying group and has already been eliminated from World Cup contention. The United States scored with ease, and it looked very comfortable.
With a commanding 3-0 victory over Honduras to close this three-game window of World Cup qualifying matches, the US is in control of its fate but still has to worry about heading into the final set of games in March. It is those games that will decide if the United States will go to the World Cup this fall.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner didn’t have to make a single save for the United States, who emerged from the Covid-altered schedule, forcing games in January and February — now in second place with three games to go. The Americans outshot Honduras 16-2 and had 71.8% possession.
“Our goal in this window was to stay in second or to move to first place and it looks like we’ll do that,” Berhalter said after the win.
The United States played its previous two games of this qualifying window in outdoor stadiums in cold-weather sites — at home against El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio (1-0), last week, and road loss against Canada in Hamilton, Ontario (2-0), on Sunday. But Wednesday’s match at Allianz Field had the worst conditions to play a game in. It was coldest in U.S. team history and in violation of USSF guidelines for safe outdoor play. The game ended with a 1-degree temperature.
Canada beat El Salvador, 2-0, to remain in first. The top three teams in the standings at the end of regional qualifying in March will receive automatic entry to the tournament in Qatar in November.
“Three points was pretty much a necessity, just with where we are and where we want to go,” U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman said. “We really took that upon us.”
Before the game, Berhalter made several changes to Wednesday’s lineup because of recent performances and injuries (Tyler Adams and Chris Richards). He inserted Kellyn Acosta at midfield, for example, and started Jordan Morris at forward instead of Christian Pulisic — a decision Berhalter called “very difficult.”
“The hardest thing to do as a coach is talk to a player and tell him that you support him and you’re behind him 100 percent, and then you don’t start him,” he said.
But after he entered the game as a substitute in the 64th minute and knocked in a goal three minutes later, Pulisic celebrated by running off with his arms outstretched, then pumping his fist and hugging his teammates.
A free kick by Acosta was knocked in by Zimmerman in the 37th minute and Pulisic added the third goal, off a corner kick by Acosta.
“The hope is that it gives us a lot of momentum, not just because we got three points, but the way that we got three points,” Zimmerman said after Wednesday’s win. He added later, “Hopefully we can take a lot of positives from this game, keep up the things that we did well and carry that into the next window.”