United States clinches World Cup berth
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) — The U.S. soccer team is headed to South Africa for a chance to redeem itself in the World Cup.
Conor Casey scored his first two international goals in the second half, Landon Donovan added another and the United States clinched its sixth straight World Cup berth with a game to spare by rallying past Honduras 3-2 Saturday night.
"We did a good job tonight," Donovan said. "We’re going to South Africa."
In one of the most thrilling end-to-end matches the U.S. has played in many years, the Americans took a 3-1 lead before Honduras closed on Julio Cesar De Leon’s second goal of the game.
Carlos Pavon had a chance to tie following a hand ball in the penalty area by Jonathan Spector. But Pavon put his penalty kick over the crossbar in the 87th minute, then fired high on an open header from in front in the 89th.
Coming off a first-round elimination at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the United States (6-2-1) is first in North and Central America and the Caribbean with 19 points and assured of one of three automatic berths that to go to the top finishers in the region.
"We’re very proud," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We understand the responsibility we have every time we step on the field for our fans, for our country."
Mexico (6-3) also clinched Saturday and has 18 points following a 4-1 victory over visiting El Salvador. Costa Rica (5-4) moved into third with 15 points after winning at home against Trinidad and Tobago.
Honduras (4-4-1), seeking its second World Cup appearance and first since 1982, has 13 points and dropped into fourth. If the Catrachos are still in that spot after the final match at El Salvador on Wednesday, they would meet the No. 5 nation from South America in a playoff.
The nation has been in turmoil since a June military coup, but the crowd was united behind its team.
"This isn’t an easy place to play," Donovan said. "No one else has won here in qualifying and we just did."
De Leon put Honduras ahead in the 47th minute when he curved a free kick over a five-man defensive wall and to the right of leaping U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard from one yard outside the penalty area after a foul by Oguchi Onyewu.
That set off sustained boisterous cheering and jumping that made Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano shake, but the sellout crowd of about 40,000 was silenced when Casey tied it in the 55th.
Onyewu sent a long pass downfield, and Charlie Davies nodded it across the area to Casey, who outjumped a defender and outmuscled goalkeeper Noel Valladares for his first goal in 15 international appearances.
David Suazo nearly put Honduras ahead in the 65th, one minute after entering, but Howard made a leaping fingertip save. Casey then gave the U.S. the lead a minute later when he split two defenders, took a pass from Donovan and scored from 16 yards.
Donovan, who set an American record with his 10th assist of the year, extended his U.S. scoring record on a 21-yard free kick in the 71st minute. It was if the air had been sucked out of the stadium.
Maurcio Sabillion nearly tied it in the 82nd, putting a bicycle kick over the crossbar and causing Howard to scream at his defenders.