USA's Jozy Altidore celebrates after scoring a goal against Honduras… (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images )
SANDY, Utah — It was so clear here on Tuesday the U.S. national soccer team could almost see Brazil.
And it got a lot closer when Jozy Altidore's second-half goal gave the Americans a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a World Cup qualifier, moving the U.S. a big step toward next summer's tournament in South America.
"We're in the driver's seat now," goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
"We'll try to keep our feet on the ground. But going back over the last 15, 20 years we know what points total gets you to the World Cup. And we're close."
So close they can almost see it. Because after earning the maximum nine points from three June matches, the U.S. (4-1-1) leads the six-team regional qualifying tournament with 13 points, two better than second-place Costa Rica and five better than Mexico, with four fall qualifiers to go.
The U.S. need only finish among the top three to qualify for Brazil 2014, and in the last four World Cup cycles, 17 points has been enough to advance.
"It's been a hugely successful summer," Howard said after the U.S. vaulted over three teams in the standings in the last 12 days.
The summer has been especially successful for Altidore, who entered June in a 17-month scoring drought but ended it with goals in four consecutive matches, the last in the 73rd minute Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd of 20,250 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The build-up started with midfielder Graham Zusi sending the ball ahead to Fabian Johnson streaking toward the goal. Altidore, 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.
That ended what had been a match-long string of frustration for the U.S.
In the 56th minute, Brad Evans headed a Zusi cross on goal but the ball skipped off the turf and into the midsection of keeper Noel Valladares. Three minutes later Altidore scored on a soft left-footer 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 — the last with Valladares on the ground and out of the play. One of the shots bounced off the post and another was deflected by an apparent hand ball.
And the U.S. was back on the doorstep again seven minutes later but Valladares batted ahead a Dempsey header.
"The goal wasn't even our best chance," Howard said.
Still the U.S. didn't quit.
"A huge compliment to the team," Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. "A good team finds ways to score and that's what they did."
However, he quickly added, the team's work isn't done just yet. Not with four more qualifiers left in the fall.
"We're not talking about the finish line," he said. "It gives us a good feeling to be on top of the table. But we know once we get together in September it's going to be a tough grind. It's going to go back to reality. We know we need more points."
Twitter: @ kbaxter11