The Full 90

USA closes in on World Cup spot, SKC duo play big part

Updated: 2013-06-19T21:41:26Z

Charles Gooch

The Kansas City Star

Last night, the United States Men's national team took out Honduras 1-0 and earned the right to start checking out flights and hotel rates for Brazil next summer.

While Jurgen Klinsmann and company aren't quite into the 2014 World Cup field officially, 13 points from six matches (and a five point lead over rival Mexico) means it's almost a sure thing.

With four games left in this cycle, the United States realistically only needs to earn four more points to secure a spot officially. In the last three World Cup cycles, 16 points has assured a spot in the World Cup. Since "The Hexagonal" began, only Costa Rica in 2010 have failed to qualify for the World Cup with 16 points -- they lost out to Honduras in goal differential and fell in a playoff with Uruguay.

The U.S. finish off the month of June with 9 points from three games -- and a nice 4-3 victory over Germany in a friendly to boot. That's some nice momentum heading into this summer's Gold Cup and the next batch of qualifiers in September.

And, for Kansas City fans, two local heroes have been a big part of this recent run.

Overland Park's Matt Besler has emerged with Los Angeles' Omar Gonzalez as Klinsmann's number one defensive pairing. Over the three qualifiers this month, the U.S. have allowed just one goal -- and that goal appears on reviewing to have been offside.

The reviews for him have been pretty good too. According to the excellent blog No Short Corners, Besler during the Honduras game "positioned himself wonderfully and even provided some solid distribution. He is the best American defender, again, still, until further notice."

Pro Soccer Talk, also discussing last night's game: "Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, [Besler] was better than his central partner in this one."

Graham Zusi was instrumental in leading the Yanks to victory in Jamaica (he assisted on Jozy Altidore's goal) and last night he and Michael Bradley lifted the tempo in the second half (and it was his brilliant piece of skill that opened up Fabian Johnson to assist on Altidore's game-winning goal). He missed the Panama game on yellow-card suspension.

According to Sports Illustrated, "The U.S. might have fared well without Zusi against Panama, but he made all the difference in the team snapping out of its doldrums against Honduras."

Kansas City have had its share of World Cup-caliber players for the United States throughout the franchise history. But never as key regulars.

Tony Meola was part of the 2002 USA setup (though he didn't play). In 2006 the Wizards had three players involved: Eddie Johnson (2 substitute appearances), Josh Wolff (one appearance) and Jimmy Conrad (a key substitute during the draw with Italy and a starter against Ghana).

Worth noting: In 2010, Roger Espinoza was the lone Wizard in the World Cup and he played well for a Honduras side that was overmatched in its group.

As of right now, that might change as it looks like Zusi has taken over the Landon Donovan role on the right wing and Besler is the first-choice defender. There's plenty of time for things to change -- especially if Donovan returns to form -- but things are definitely looking bright for the KC duo's 2014 fortunes.

Up Next

The Gold Cup kicks off for the USA against Belize in Portland on July 9. Zusi, Besler and Benny Feilhaber are on the 35-man roster. It will be cut down to 23 soon -- I would think Besler might be a shoo-in to get more experience with Omar Gonzalez. I don't think Feilhaber's recently play will justify a call-up.

The next World Cup qualifying round comes in September with a trip to Costa Rica on Sept. 6 and home to Mexico (in Columbus) on Sept. 10.

Kansas City will host the USA vs. Jamaica on Oct. 11 and the qualifying closes out on Oct. 15 in Panama.

Alas, Poor Roger

Well, at least Roger Espinoza won the FA Cup this year.

Wigan were relegated and Honduras are currently occupying the fourth-place spot in World Cup qualifying. (The fourth-place team will face off against the winner of the Oceania confederation -- New Zealand, likely -- for a spot in the World Cup.)

Honduras have been a team in crisis (whether via injuries or players like Jerry Bengston leaving the team), but the former Sporting KC midfielder soldiers on making incredible 40-yard closing runs and nutmegging defenders on the edge of the box. I hope, for his sake, that he finds his way to a Premiership team this offseason. He faded a bit for Wigan down the stretch, but he's worthy of a full season in England's top league.

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