It took an 89th minute game winner from substitute Jordan Siebatcheu for the U.S. to beat Honduras in the semifinals of Concacaf Nations League. The match was a typical Concacaf slug fest, but the U.S. still struggled against an inferior Honduran side.
The match started out slow as both sides settled into the game. The intensity increased in the 27th minute after a Honduras player attempted to draw a penalty. The referee determined the play a dive, so U.S. midfielder Gio Reyna had a few words for the attacker, which led to a mass confrontation. The remainder of the first half was fueled by the intensity from that play.
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead in the first half but missed sitters. Antony Lozano was through on goal for Honduras, but Josh Sargent headed the potential goal off the goal line. Gio Reyna had the best chance for the Americans after juking two defenders in the 10th minute, but his shot from inside the 18 pulled left.
The second half was much less promising as Honduras bunkered down. The U.S. midfield trio of Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lleget, and Jackson Yueill struggled in possession and could not create any meaningful opportunities.
Honduras had another golden opportunity squandered in the 50th minute as the U.S. back line was caught too high, allowing Lozano through on goal. Goalkeeper and captain Zack Steffen made a huge save to keep the game scoreless.
After slugging through a compact game with plenty of time wasting (the stretcher crew visited the field for Honduran players five times in the second half), the breakthrough finally come for the U.S. as the result of a Gregg Berhalter substitution. Siebatcheu subbed in for Josh Sargent in the 78th minute, a move Berhalter wanted to make because he felt Siebatcheu would provide the team with more speed, energy, and physicality up top, especially with crosses being sent in.
The goal was created after centerback John Brooks pushed up through the middle of the field, using the space Honduras had vacated as they bunkered in. Brooks sent the ball wide to McKennie, who headed it centrally. Siebatcheu pulled away from his man to tap in the game winner. It was great combination play and a quality run, something the Americans had been lacking all game. Lleget said the stop-start style Honduras dictated on the game made it difficult, especially for a U.S. team that was trying to establish rhythm.
As the U.S. looks forward to the Nations League final on Sunday, they will have to do better at controlling the game through the midfield. They will also need to finish their chances at a better rate, since goal-scoring opportunities will be even harder to come by in a final. After the game, Steffen expressed his disappointment with the team's ugly performance, saying: "We could have all done better."
An interesting tactical approach in this game was the use of Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic. Pulisic started the game on the left wing, with Reyna on the right wing. However, they switched sides back and forth several times throughout the match. Berhalter said after the game that he wanted Pulisic isolated on the wing to create more chances an opportunity Honduras seemed content to give as the U.S. had lots of the space out wide. Had the Americans been more clinical in the 18, they easily could have scored a few more goals.
For Honduras, they are obviously disappointed that they lost the game in the dying moments of the match. However, they were pleased with their overall performance and the momentum it will generate for World Cup qualifying. The Hondurans showed they can compete with anyone in the region, and they were proud of the intensity they brought, with the feeling they surprised the U.S. out of the gates in a home game for the Americans.
The U.S. will play for the championship Sunday night against the winner of Mexico vs Costa Rica, with Honduras playing the loser of that match.