SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Bobby Wood scored off a scramble in the 85th minute, and the United States escaped from Honduras with a 1-1 tie and important point Tuesday after nearly falling into a deep hole in World Cup qualifying.
“I was thinking we might have an early vacation at the end of this year,” coach Bruce Arena said afterward.
Romell Quioto scored in the 27th minute after defender Omar Gonzalez failed to clear the ball with a slide tackle. Quioto was left with an open 11-yard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan to the far post, causing exuberant fans to stomp and shake Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. The previously well-behaved fans threw horns and liquids at the Americans as they exited the field.
Christian Pulisic was fouled about 30 yards from the goal and Kellyn Acosta took the free kick. Goalkeeper Luis Lopez batted the ball with his left hand, and Matt Besler hooked it to Jordan Morris. He sent a backward header to Wood, a 73rd-minute substitute.
Wood chested the ball and scored his ninth international goal, avoiding a huge U.S. embarrassment and deflating fans who had been celebrating since the start.
“It was tough. Lots of credit to them, they made it tough. The conditions were obviously difficult,” Morris said. “I think it shows the mentality of our team, we knew that we had to get a result down here. Credit to Bobby, he came in and scored a nice goal. As a team we worked really hard the whole game. Obviously we would have loved three points but a point is big for us down here.”
The U.S. remained third in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with nine points, ahead of Honduras on goal difference with two qualifiers remaining. Panama had seven points and was in position to overtake the Americans later Tuesday when it hosted last-place Trinidad and Tobago.
The top three nations in the six-team group qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place country meets Australia or Syria in a playoff for another berth. The U.S. hosts Panama on Oct. 6 at Orlando, Florida, and finishes four days later at Trinidad, so Arena’s team has control of its own fate.
“I’m proud of the way our team battled. Those were really difficult conditions. That was a huge point,” Arena said. “With two games remaining in qualifying, we have everything to play for.”
Still, the Americans may need wins in both games. They will head into their finale uncertain of qualifying for the first time since 1989, when Paul Caligiuri’s goal gave them a 1-0 win at Trinidad and their first World Cup berth since 1950.
Failing to qualify for the 32-nation field in Russia would be an embarrassing failure for the U.S. Soccer Federation after seven straight World Cup appearances helped lift the sport from obscurity in the U.S. The Americans reached the quarterfinals in 2002 under Arena, who was brought back as coach last November after a home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 defeat at Costa Rica in the first two games of the hexagonal.
The team’s fortunes started to revive with a 6-0 rout of Honduras in San Jose, California, in March and a tie at Panama four days later. A home win over Trinidad and a draw at Mexico in June left the Americans third, and they took a 14-game unbeaten streak under Arena into Friday’s game against Costa Rica at Harrison, New Jersey, where they lost 2-0 and left little further margin for error.
It was 93 degrees with high humidity and a harsh sun at kickoff, and though the field was covered with shade during the second half there was still a water break in the 70th minute. The grass was long and barbed wire separated fans from the running track that surrounds the field. While there are luxury suites, the stadium does not have a scoreboard.
Arena made seven changes to his starting lineup, saying Europe-based players were not fully fit just weeks into their club seasons and were unprepared for the heat.
Only right back Graham Zusi and midfielders Pulisic, Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe remained from Friday’s lineup.
Gonzalez and Matt Besler replaced Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream in central defense, and 35-year-old DaMarcus Beasley, a veteran of four World Cups was at left back in place of Jorge Villafana.
Kellyn Acosta replaced Fabian Johnson in a more defensive midfield alignment, while Morris started up front with Clint Dempsey in place of Wood and Jozy Altidore, who served a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.