Fans of the United States and Honduras fly flags from each country during… (George Frey / Getty Images )
SANDY, Utah — Needing a win to move a big step closer to a berth in next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. rode a late goal by Jozy Altidore to a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a regional qualifier Tuesday before a sellout crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The win gave the U.S. (4-1-1) the maximum of nine points from its three June qualifying matches, leaving it atop the standings in the six-team tournament with four games to play. That guarantees the U.S. no worse than a two-point lead in the table, pending the result of Tuesday’s late qualifier between second-place Costa Rica and Panama.
The top three teams in CONCACAF — the regional federation of teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean — all win automatic berths in the World Cup. The U.S. has won the qualifying tournament in each of the last two World Cup cycles.
Although the U.S. dominated possession all evening, the Americans were repeatedly frustrated by Honduran keeper Noel Valladares, who was spectacular in goal. But that spell was broken in the 73rd minute after Clint Dempsey sent a ball forward to Graham Zusi.
Zusi, who delivered a number of quality crosses in the match, sent the ball ahead to Fabian Johnson, who was streaking toward the ball. Altidore, who was trailing the play, cut behind his defender near the penalty spot, and when Johnson laid the ball back for him, he had a wide-open left-footer at the empty net.
Until then the Americans had gone wanting.
In the 56th minute defender Brad Evans headed a Zusi cross on goal but the ball skipped off the turf and into the midseason of keeper Noel Valladares. Three minutes later, Altidore scored on a soft left-footed shot only to be ruled a step offside.
A wild scramble in front of the net in the 63rd minute produced no fewer than three decent chances for the U.S. — the last with Valladares on the ground and out of the play. One of the shots bounced off the post while another was deflected by an apparent hand ball. But the foul wasn’t called and ball stayed out of the net.
The U.S. was back on the doorstep again seven minutes later but Valladares batted ahead a Dempsey header.
Altidore made all of that moot with his fourth goal in as many games, leaving the U.S. unbeaten in its last five qualifiers. The Americans have won the last three.
The latest victory also extended the Americans’ unbeaten streak in home qualifiers to 25 matches, dating to September 2011, while avenging the only U.S. loss in the final round of qualifying, a 2-1 decision in Honduras four months ago.
World Cup qualifying resumes Sept. 6 when the U.S. visits Costa Rica before playing host to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, in a match in which the U.S. could clinch a berth in Brazil.