The US Men's National Team earned all three points the hard way, gutting out a physical 2-1 victory over Honduras in their opening Gold Cup group stage matchup before a sold out crowd of 22,357 at Toyota Park.
Honduras got off to the better start as the U.S. struggled to connect offensively. Brad Guzan was active early, quickly hitting the floor to block an Anthony Lozano shot from 15 yards out, then a few minutes later, tipping a curling Andy Najar blast over the bar.
The Anderlecht and former D.C. United winger was a major influence as the Hondurans racked up plenty of corner kicks and near miss opportunities. The physical nature of the game then took its toll on the players as former Sounders DeAndre Yedlin and Mario Martinez spent time on the ground nursing knocks.
Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces
Then, against the run of play, the U.S. scored from...you guessed it, a set piece. Yedlin played a short ball to Michael Bradley off a corner kick, and Bradley hit a cross that just eluded the head of Jozy Altidore and skidded across the box before bouncing back to Altidore. The Toronto FC forward's shot was deflected, but the rebound fortuiously bounced to Clint Dempsey who headed home.
After the goal, the US grew in confidence and started to look more dangerous. Perhaps the US should have gone ahead when Fabian Johnson raced down the field and beautifully slid in Yedlin for a breakaway, but his attempt went across goalkeeper Donis Escobar's path and he made the stop. Najar almost equalized before the half on a swashbuckling run that concluded with a right footed blast that just sailed over the goal.
The second half began in the same manner as the first, with the US generally looking sloppy in the opening minutes before scoring off a set piece in the 64th minute. From outside the left corner of the box, Michael Bradley swung in a cross that Clint Dempsey located at the far post and routinely nodded down to double the US lead.
The game intensified as Honduras became desperate to get back into the game, and in the 69th minute Carlos Disqua gave his team a lifeline when the substitute diced inside the area before lifting a left footed shot over a stranded Guzan.
Both teams traded half-chances as the game died down. Michael Bradley almost squeezed a free kick under Escobar off another set piece opportunity. Late on Eddie Hernandez found space inside the box, but with the US defense closing down the angle, Hernandez dragged his shot just wide.
The US next battle Haiti on July 10th at Gilette Stadium. (5:30, Fox Sports 1)