Clint Dempsey moves the ball upfield during a World Cup qualifier against… (Joe Klamar / AFP/ Getty Images )
SANDY, Utah — Most of the Europe-based players on the U.S. national soccer team will begin a well-deserved summer vacation Wednesday. But before heading out they have one more piece of business to attend to: Tuesday's World Cup qualifier with Honduras at a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium here.
And if that doesn't go well, captain Clint Dempsey said Monday, the vacation will be ruined.
"Right now I'm not looking that far ahead," Dempsey said of his summer plans. "I'm just trying to focus on the last game and end on a good note so that I can have a good vacation. You won't have a good vacation if you don't get the points [Tuesday] night. And that's what we want to make sure that we do: Put ourselves in the driver's seat and make sure that we qualify for the World Cup."
The U.S., with 10 points, sits atop the table midway through the 10-match regional qualifying tournament for just the second time in two decades. So a win Tuesday combined with a loss or tie from Costa Rica would give the Americans a four-point lead with four fall matches left, virtually guaranteeing them an invitation to next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
"So far, things are good," said Dempsey, who also plays for Tottenham of the English Premier League. "We’re where we want to be. It’s that consistency in these next games and making sure that we put ourselves in a position to qualify [and] we’re not waiting for the last two games hoping that other teams will do us a favor."
"The team is growing," added Dempsey, who leads the U.S. in scoring with five goals in seven games. "It’s getting better and better. We’re really starting to develop something and I feel like this team has the quality to qualify for the World Cup and to do well in the World Cup. It’s a work in progress, but there’s definitely good signs there and I'm excited for things to come."
The U.S. goes into the match with a 24-match home unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifying, dating to September 2001. And though its only loss in the final round of qualifying came in February in Honduras, the lineup the Central Americans will field Tuesday will be much different from the one it used four months ago.
Defender Maynor Figueroa, who assisted on Honduras' first goal in that game, is out because of an injury and defender Victor Bernardez is suspended. Houston Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia, who left last week's 2-0 win over Jamaica with an injury after scoring a first-half goal, was still being treated by team trainers over the weekend, leaving his availability in doubt. And forward Jerry Palacios is also questionable after missing the Jamaica game entirely because of injury.
Another reason this match could be different from the first one? Honduras hasn't lost a home match in this round of qualifying and it hasn't won on the road.
"We have a lot of respect for Honduras," U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. "You respect your opponent. We have had that experience in February. And we expect them to be very physical.
"There will be a lot of battles on the field, all over the place. But we want to play our rhythm, we want to play our game. We want to be dominant, hopefully, on the field and take care of things -- the sooner the better."
Klinsmann will have some lineup issues of his own to deal with. Jermaine Jones, who missed last week's win over Panama because of a concussion, has been cleared to play and midfield partner Graham Zusi will return from a one-game suspension. Defender DaMarcus Beasley, on the other hand, is out after picking up a second yellow card in the Panama game.
"It’s something that we just have to live with and work with it," Klinsmann said. "Because of yellow cards. Because of maybe injuries. We will be always forced into making changes."