The international break finished Thursday evening with a full slate of CONMEBOL match-ups. Even with two of the Seattle Sounders’ most important players potentially in action, however, most of the chatter stateside was understandably still focused on Wednesday evening’s proceedings.
There was the small matter of the United States men’s national team pulling out of a first-half nosedive to ultimately handle Honduras 4-1, a scoreline that slightly flattered the victors. How could a 4-goal scoreline prove anything but a convincing performance? The first half. Oh, that first half.
It was a shocking performance that nobody — even head Coach Gregg Berhalter — tried to sugarcoat. Coming out in a five-man backline, the USMNT looked disjointed and at points disinterested, allowing Honduras to control the game from nearly the opening whistle. Somehow after going down 1-0 in the 28th minute with some defensive marking that could best be described as non-existent, the Nats looked worse after conceding, luckily making it halftime only one goal down.
It might as well have been 4-0 as the halftime whistle blew, with most of the fanbase checking the resumes of any prospective managers looking for a salvage job. But Berhalter, acknowledging that he could have scarcely gotten things more wrong if he tried, made wholesale changes from personnel to tactics. Scrapping the 5-3-2 in favor of the more familiar 4-3-3, and yanking three underperforming players (he could have probably jettisoned 8/11 starters, to be frank), the change in tactics and substitutions completely changed the game. He might have gotten a helping hand from some questionable decisions from the Honduras head coach, who also made some personnel and formation changes that didn’t serve him well.
But the bottom line is that the US got the victory and a decisive scoreline, helping move them all the way up to third in qualifying. A soccer nation breathes a sigh of relief, for now. After all, they’re only one poor result away from hitting panic button again. And who would have it any other way.
Here’s how the Sounders fared:
Cristian Roldan, USA
Roldan again came off the bench for the US Wednesday, though at this point he might wonder what he has to do to earn a start, especially in light of what happened in San Pedro Sula. Coming in the match in the 62nd for an injured Christian Pulisic, Roldan once again played bulldog, providing defensive bite and winning the ball that led to the third goal for the United States. After the game, Berhalter was again complimentary of Roldan’s contribution, noting that they can count on him to compete for every ball.
What’s next: The USMNT returns to action in October, squeezing a visit to Panama (Oct. 10) in between hosting Jamaica (Oct. 7) and Costa Rica (Oct. 13), and it’s pretty clear that Roldan has cemented a place on the roster for the foreseeable future, injury and form permitting. Whether that translates into a World Cup invite is a question for down the line, when/if the USA qualifies. And if this window has shown anything, it’s that nobody should put that cart before the horse.
For the Sounders, Roldan’s limited minutes, and his engine, may allow him to play a role on the weekend, though travel could limit how much he sees the field.
Alex Roldan, El Salvador
The younger Roldan has also cemented a place in the El Salvador lineup, starting all three games and playing the full 270 minutes. Unfortunately for El Salvador, they ran up against an inspired Canadian attack and couldn’t cope in the opening minutes, conceding twice early and running out of gas late in a 3-0 defeat. The loss leaves El Salvador mired near the bottom of qualifying, and their road only gets tougher from here, having already played two home games and winning neither.
What’s next: El Salvador hosts Panama (Oct. 7) and Mexico (Oct. 13) with a road trip to Costa Rica (Oct. 10) in between. A rough window, and likely one that forecloses any chance of Alex Roldan making the World Cup. He’ll likely have some time to reflect on things this weekend, as it seems unlikely he plays a role for the Sounders against Minnesota given the minutes he’s logged over the last seven days.
Raúl Ruidíaz, Peru
Ruidíaz again came off the bench for Peru Thursday, logging about 20 minutes in a 2-0 defeat at Brazil. The defeat was neither a surprise nor a disappointment, though Ruidíaz continues to struggle to translate his club form to national team duty, limited though his minutes are. Still, those minutes were not something he was seeing during his short exile from the team during the Copa America this summer, and Peru’s lack of scoring (2 goals in three games) means he may still have a chance to make his mark.
What’s next: Peru hosts Chile (Oct. 7), before going on the road to Bolivia (Oct. 10) and Argentina (Oct. 14) in the next window. Peru’s World Cup hopes are already hanging by a thread, and a poor showing in the next window may just cut that string for good. Whether Ruidíaz factors for the Sounders on the weekend depends mostly on Brian Schmetzer’s comfort playing him without any training, as he’s not expected back in Seattle until late Friday at the earliest.
Xavier Arreaga, Ecuador
Ecuador was so close to grinding out a scoreless draw at Uruguay, which needless to say would have been a hugely valuable road point against a direct competitor for World Cup qualification. Alas, an extra-time winner Gastón Pereiro broke Ecuadorian hearts, and sent Ecuador into a fourth-place tie with Colombia, though Ecuador’s vastly superior goal differential keeps them in the automatic qualifying spot. Arreaga didn’t figure in either of the last two matches, so he is left to wonder what might have been.
What’s next: Ecuador hosts Bolivia (Oct. 7) and Venezuela (Oct. 10), before a clash on the road against Colombia (Oct. 14). Obviously, the expectation will be that Ecuador racks up six points before that match. Like Ruidíaz, Arreaga seems a stretch to start for the Sounders on the weekend, though his limited minutes may mean a bench appearance, assuming no flight delays or issues with US Customs upon landing.
Brad Smith, Australia
Smith has already returned to the Sounders and participated in training on Thursday as Australia only played two games during this qualifying window.
What’s next: The Socceroos are coming off a pair of wins and sit atop their AFC qualifying group where the top two teams earn automatic spots in the World Cup. They’ll return to action in October with a home match against Oman (Oct. 7) and a road match against Japan (Oct. 12).