By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)
Honduras is the team nobody wants to play. With the USA and Panama the clear favorites to finish 1st and 2nd in Group A, Honduras has little pressure on their backs. This was a difficult group draw for them, but their path to the knockout stages isn't unimaginable. Featuring a cohesive and experienced pool of talent, this is a team that is capable of surprising some experts. Still, the big names left off the final roster have raised some questions about if they’re taking this tournament seriously.
|Country||Avg Age||Avg Caps||ELOrank||FIFArank|
|13-Jul||7:00PM||Kansas City||Sporting Park||HAI||HON|
How did they get here?
Honduras was the last team to qualify for the Gold Cup after beating French Guiana over two legs. In a battle between the 5th place teams in the Caribbean Football Union and Central American Football Union respectively, Anderlect player and DC United veteran Andy Najar was the hero when his brace helped “La H” come back from a 3-1 defeat in the 1st leg to win 4-3 on aggregate.
What group are they in?
They are in Group A, along with Panama, the United States and Haiti. The winner of the group will play the Group B/C third place team, the runner-up will play the Group B winner and third place will be weighted against other third place teams for the chance to play the Group C winner. If Honduras is able to qualify for the quarter-finals as the 3rd place team in the group, they would play the winner of Group C, which is likely to be Mexico.
Who are they coached by?
Jorge Luis Pinto has previously managed the Colombian and Costa Rican national teams, having led Costa Rica to the quarter finals as the surprise team of the 2014 World Cup. He left his job with Costa Rica after their FA refused to allow him to hire and fire staff, and took the reigns for Honduras in December of 2014. Besides the play-in series with French Guyana, there isn't much to evaluate the team with since his arrival, but a narrow 1-0 loss to Brazil in June suggests he may be able to bring similar success to his new side.
|Luis Lopez||GK||Real España||Honduras||21||0|
|Maynor Figueroa||D||Hull City||England||32||116|
|Bryan Acosta||M||Real España||Honduras||21||8|
|Jorge Claros||M||Qingdao Jonoon||China||29||57|
|Oscar Boniek Garcia||M||Houston Dynamo||USA||30||104|
|Mario Martinez||M||Real España||Honduras||25||51|
Who are the important players that I should know?
Noel Valladares (GK) is the captain and will soon be Honduras’ all-time leader in Caps, though at 38 his international career may soon be over.
Maynor Figueroa (D), who has spent the last three season at Hull City, is the oldest field player in the squad. He’s been a consistent and reliable defender in the back for a team that has seen plenty of changes at the other defensive positions.
Oscar Boniek Garcia (MF) will be recognized by MLS fans as the talented general in the Houston Dynamo midfield, though he’s sometimes played out of position as a striker for his national team. Given the lack of experience for the forwards on the roster (no striker has more than 14 caps), it’s likely he’ll be relied upon to carry the attack.
Andy Najar (MF) will line up on the wing, getting forward at every opportunity and taking on his opponents’ outside backs (look out, Brek Shea). He’s been a major part of Anderlect’s trophy quest in Belgium for the last two seasons, and will be heavily relied on to get up and down the flanks.
Wilson Palacios (MF) from Stoke City, Jerry Bengston (FW) from the New England Revolution, Juan Carlos García (DEF) from Wigan, and Roger Espinoza (MF) from Sporting KC are four of the big names and crucial members of the 2014 World Cup squad that weren’t called up for this tournament.
Seventy percent of the players on this squad play at home in Honduras, and almost half play for either Motagua or Olimpia. So while there is a large gulf in experience – three players have 100+ caps, eight have fewer than 10 – they are familiar with each other. The real question with this roster is where the goals will come from. Boniek and Najar will be relied on, but they can’t carry the team on their backs. With only 27 caps combined for the four forwards on the roster, they’ll need to find new ways to score.
What have they done in the past?
2013: Semi-finals (lost 3-1 to the USA)
2011: Semi-finals (lost 2-0 to Mexico in extra time)
2009: Semi-finals (lost 2-0 to the USA)
2007: Quarter-finals (lost 1-0 to Guateloupe)
What do we expect from them this go around?
It will be a real challenge for Honduras to get out of their group. Still, they haven't missed the knockout stages of the Gold Cup since 2003, and will rely on players that know each other if they're going to make it again. Not unfamiliar with warmer climes and with a possibly supportive crowd, their best opportunity to steal unexpected points may come in their first game in Frisco, Texas against the United States. If they can steal a draw in that first game, they'll be in the driver's seat for qualifying for the knockout round. If that first game gets out of hand and the USA wins by multiple goals, Honduras' tournament hopes may end soon after they begin.