The United States fought back from a goal down to beat Honduras 2-1 in a North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying match for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ at Soldier Field on Saturday, captain Carlos Bocanegra leading by example with a brave 68th-minute winner.
After suffering a 3-1 loss away to CONCACAF qualification leaders Costa Rica on Wednesday, the US looked set for another disappointing night when they fell behind to a superb long-range strike from Carlos Costly in the fifth minute. However, Landon Donovan equalised from the spot two minutes from halftime after Mario Beata had handled in the area before Bocanegra's diving header in a crowded penalty area secured the win that keeps the US in second place.
Costa Rica lead the six-team standings on 12 points from five games with the US two points behind from the same amount of fixtures. The top three finishers from the CONCACAF region qualify automatically for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with the fourth-placed side playing off against the fifth-placed team in South America for a finals berth in South Africa.
A noisy crowd of 55,646, including a large contingent of Hondurans, witnessed a game played at high tempo, but riddled with plenty of errors on both sides. Honduras got off to a dream start when Clint Dempsey was dispossessed in midfield and Wilson Palacios broke, feeding Costly, who unleashed a fierce left-foot drive from over 25 metres that whistled past a helpless Tim Howard.
The central American side were buzzing, but the US regrouped and managed to find a way back into the game when Beata handled and Donovan converted the spot kick with confidence. The introduction of Benny Feilhaber at the break injected some needed composure and creativity into the US midfield and Bob Bradley's side enjoyed the better of the second half.
The winner came from a Donovan corner which Dempsey headed back across goal and Bocanegra flew courageously between boots for a superb diving header. The US skipper injured his hamstring in the process of scoring and was replaced by Jay DeMerit, who had plenty to do as the US had to battle hard to maintain their lead.
"After we went behind, we were thinking 'not again', but we fought together and stayed together in a team effort and showed character to come back and win," Bocanegra said.
The US now head to South Africa to play in the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 where they will face world champions Italy on 15 June.