CHICAGO — They put themselves in a hole again, falling behind early against a rival with the overwhelming support of the crowd -- even though the U.S. soccer team ostensibly was playing a home game in front of 55,647 at Soldier Field.
This time, though, the U.S. overcame its problems instead of compounding them, and the result was a 2-1 win over Honduras that put it back on solid ground halfway through the final qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup.
"If we didn't win," Landon Donovan said, "we were going to be in a bad position."
Instead, after a dismaying 3-1 loss Wednesday at Costa Rica, the U.S. now has a 3-1-1 record and remains second to the Ticos in the six-team group, from which three teams are guaranteed spots in South Africa next year.
And it was Donovan's play, from start to finish, that had a lot to do with the U.S. rallying to win a World Cup qualifying match for the first time in 24 years.
Donovan tied the score on a penalty kick in the 43rd minute, then set up the winner with a corner kick to the far post that Clint Dempsey leaped and headed back to where a diving Carlos Bocanegra could head it home in the 68th minute.
"It means a great deal to the team when Landon is active physically," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said. "He really pushed when he had chances with the ball, and he can still step back and make great passes."
Bradley had moved Donovan from forward to midfield as part of the four lineup changes he made, one by necessity after his midfielder son, Michael, was suspended because of a second yellow card in the qualifying round.
The coach benched both outside defenders who had started and played poorly against Costa Rica, DaMarcus Beasley and Marvell Wynne, as well as midfielder Jose Torres. Jonathan Spector took one of the defensive spots and acquitted himself well in his first national team game this year.
"The most important thing is how we responded after giving up that first goal," Bradley said.
It came after Wilson Palacios intercepted Dempsey's ill-advised backheel pass and moved it forward to Carlos Costly, whose shot beat Tim Howard in the fifth minute.
"I probably should have kicked the ball upfield, but I feel I made up for it with the assist to Carlos," Dempsey said.
So a U.S. team that was jeered upon taking the field found itself giving some 35,000 Honduran fans something to cheer. Once again, the U.S. effectively was a visitor -- no matter where it plays in CONCACAF matches.
Fan support or not, the U.S. is 16-0-1 in home qualifying matches since a loss to Honduras in 2001.