2017 Gold Cup preview: Honduras
By Matthew Gourlie
Honduras failed to advance from their group at the Gold Cup two years ago. Their World Cup qualifying hopes are dimming.
Now, the Catrachos are a mess as they enter the 2017 Gold Cup.
Honduras are hardly alone when it comes to missing players heading into the tournament. However, in the week leading up to their Group A opener, their squad suffered some serious blows.
First, Rony Martinez stayed in China to make his debut with second division bottom dwellers Baoding Yingli Yitong on July 1. He then opted to stay in China and not board his flight home.
All the while, Choco Lozano was waiting to transfer to Barcelona B, the reserve squad of the Catalan giants for the La Liga 2 season. Without the deal done Wednesday morning, the team flew to the United States without their most potent goal scorer. Lozano has now signed, but his status is uncertain.
Manager Jorge Luis Pinto tried to add attacking midfielder Michaell Chirinos and forward Angel Tejada to replace Lozano and Martinez, but CONCACAF ruled it was too late for them to change their squad for the group stage. Chirinos and Tejada are training with the team and would be added to the knockout stage roster should Honduras advance and presumably should Lozano and Martinez remain M.I.A.
Pinto told Honduras’ Diez that there are “two or three players who are attacking the process” and that “it’s clear who they are.”
Those losses are on top the absence of Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre, Anderlecht’s Andy Najar and Roger Espinoza from Sporting Kansas City. Even depth players like Oliver Morazan who has played four of the six matches at the Hex, plus Érick Andino and Mario Martinez — who have each played in three — will be missed along with defender Johnny Palacios who pulled out of the team late.
Instead, Pinto brought in some veteran Honduran League players to see if they can add something to the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Defender Carlos Sanchez has one cap and midfielders Ovidio Lanza and Sergio Peña are looking to make their international debuts. These are not members of their strong Olympic team looking to make a breakthrough. Quite the contrary, Lanza is 28 and Peña is 30.
To add to their woes forward Alberth Elis and left back Allans Vargas both missed training due to injury in the week leading up to their opening match against Costa Rica, though both are close to being fit and are expected to be available in the group stage at some point.
With all of that, Honduras can still cobble together something close to a first-choice starting 11. Elis and Romell Quioto are both having strong seasons in Houston. Jorge Claros and Bryan Acosta are a familiar pairing in the centre of the midfield for club and country, while Maynor Figueroa and Henry Figueroa are regular starters in the centre of defence.
If Lozano arrives before Honduras faces Canada on July 14 in Dallas, he and Elis pose a potent threat.
There appear to be too many missing players to be a real threat, but Honduras will still expect to advance out Group A and won’t be an easy out in the knockout stages.
Honduras should play a 4-3-3, however Jose Luis Pinto has experimented with a back five in qualifying. After the U.S. beat them 6-0 the second time they tried it, that experiment seemed likely gone for good, but Pinto has continued to use both. Without much success — and without Izaguirre — the 5-4-1 seems less likely.
In the 4-3-3 Elis tends to drift to the wide right side, especially as an outlet, while the target forward (usually Lozano) is more central. When Quioto is in the team, he is very advanced on the left side, creating a three-man attack with him mirroring Elis. That could unbalance Honduras, but with Emilio Izaguirre typically playing behind him it tends to work out. Without him Claros plays wider left than he normally does in a 4-4-2. While their central box-to-box midfielders (Claros and Acosta) are generally comfortable with the ball at their feet, they don’t have a true No. 10 in the team. Without Mario Martinez, who comes off the right flank to help link the lines, there isn’t an obvious option to play through. If Lozano doesn’t arrive at the 11th hour, look for Angel Tejada to start as the target forward in a 4-3-3. If they play with a 5-4-1, it’s Elis who is asked to lead the line and do a lot of work without a lot of support. Honduras likes to use their pace and size to play direct and spread the ball wide to Elis and Quioto when playing a 4-3-3. With all of their absences, that tactic may be even more prevalent.
18 Ricardo CANALES
CDS Vida • 6/0 • 35
At six-foot-two the biggest of Honduras’ keepers. The 35-year-old was No. 3 at the 2010 World Cup. Earned his first call-up in five years during qualifying. Hasn’t earned a cap since 2010. He played a half and kept a clean sheet in Canada’s 2-1 win over Honduras in Montréal in 2010.
22 Donis ESCOBER
Olimpia • 59/0 • 37
Veteran campaigner has plenty of experience despite being behind Noël Valladares for most his career for Olimpia and Honduras. A little unorthodox, prone to punching instead of catching and isn’t always convincing, but is general pretty steady. Has a chronic stomach ailment that has forced him to leave the pitch and scurry to the facilities mid-match. Has started 10 straight qualifiers.
1 Luis LOPEZ
Real España • 6/0 • 23
‘Buba’ Lopez was sensational in their quarter-final win over South Korea at the Brazil Olympics and was a big reason the Catrachos played for a medal. The acrobatic keeper was Honduras’ No. 3 at the World Cup as a 20-year-old.
5 Ever ALVARADO
Olimpia • 15/1 • 25
Aggressive left back uses his quickness to close space and harry attackers. Not the most elegant tackler, he can also be over-aggressive and pulled out of position. Started the qualifier in Vancouver and seems the likely starter in Izaguirre’s absence.
21 Brayan Beckeles
Necaxa/MEX • 51/1 • 31
Big, powerful and aggressive, Beckeles should start at right back. He isn’t asked to get too advanced and instead makes simple passes to keep possession. Has a good first touch and good control, can step too aggressively and get turned and get into trouble.
2 Félix CRISANTO
Motagua • 5/0 • 26
Went the distance as a right wingback when Honduras used a back five in a 3-0 loss to Mexico at Azteca a month ago. Played defence-first marking Tecatito Corona, but the long-legged back is a little awkward, but covers a lot of ground and has ample pace. Not to be confused with his more experienced Motagua teammate and fellow right back Wilmer Crisanto.
4 Henry FIGUEROA
Motagua • 28/0 • 24
A little raw and aggressive, there is not much finesse in Figueroa’s game. He closes space quickly in the midfield, but is prone to fouls. Good quickness and closing speed, he covers for his teammates well.
3 Maynor FIGUEROA
FC Dallas/USA • 138/4 • 34
He will anchor the backline and captain the side. Figueroa is playing right back for Dallas, but will be in the centre of the defence for Honduras. If they play with five in the back, he will be the sweeper. He reads the game quickly and react quickly to win long passes in the air. Despite only being 5-11, he is very good in the air. He may have lost a step, but still manages. A cool head, his composure on the ball and defending in the area is invaluable.
19 Marcelo PEREIRA
Motagua • 6/0 • 22
Started four matches in central defence in Honduras’ 2017 Copa Centroamericana championship team. Was also a starter on their 2016
Olympic team that reached the semifinals, but he still may be having nightmares of trying to mark Gabriel Jesus.
23 Carlos SANCHEZ
Honduras Progreso • 1/0 • 26
His lone cap came in a start at left back in a friendly loss to Venezuela in 2015. Plays as a wide left player for his club and could be deployed as a left wing back. Captained Progreso to a shock 2-1 win over UNAM Pumas in their Champions League home debut.
15 Allans VARGAS
Real España • 7/0 • 23
A left-footed central defender who will compete with Henry Figeuroa for the other central defence spot after being a late replacement for Johnny Palacios. No nonsense defender who was part of the side that finished fourth at the Brazil Olympics. Patient on the ball and looks to play out of the back, but not comfortable defending 1v1 in space. Enters the tournament nursing an injury and is questionable for the opener.
6 Bryan ACOSTA
Real España • 34/3 • 23
Captain of the Olympic team, he harries and harasses in the centre of the midfield. He can play his way out of trouble and the right-footer may see some corner kick duty. He makes his presence known in the midfield and isn’t afraid to pick up the odd foul or booking.
20 Jorge CLAROS
Real España • 78/3 • 31
Pairs with Acosta as a central midfielder for club and country. Similarly combative and uses his quickness and physicality to break up attacks and win balls. Offers a good work-rate, but also some quality on the ball.
7 Carlos DISCUA
Motagua • 29/2 • 32
The left-footed playmaker is one of the few true No. 10s in the lineup. Could play in a left-sided attacking role, but is more likely an attacking option off the bench to play centrally. Has a decent scoring record and scored a pretty goal with nearly his first touch of the game against the U.S. at the last Gold Cup.
14 Oscar Boniek GARCIA
Houston Dynamo/USA • 120/3 • 32
Fast, tricky, never afraid to run at defences, Boniek Garcia is capable of creating danger and scoring chances whenever he has the ball at his quick feet. No longer an everyday starter in Houston, he seems the best fit to occupy the right midfield role and try to add some spark to the attack.
10 Alexander LOPEZ
Olimpia • 9/0 • 25
The “Honduran Maradona” picked up five of his caps during the 2013 Gold Cup. Earned his first cap in nearly four years, playing a half on the left in the Copa Centroamericana. After a strong tournament at the London Olympics, it took the playmaker awhile to settle in Houston, but he started 12 matches in his third year there in 2015. He spent a season in Saudi Arabia before returning to Olimpia.
8 Alfredo MEJIA
Xanthi FC/GRE • 33/1 • 27
Offers more size in a defensive midfield role. Plying his trade with Julian de Guzman’s former club in Greece. He is tidy and composed on the ball, but against quality teams the game can pass him by as quickness and ball movement leave him chasing shadows.
13 Sergio PEÑA
Real Sociedad • 0/0 • 30
Another debutant, the six-foot-one midfielder recently returned to Honduras after spending two seasons in the NASL with Indy Eleven. A physical and athletic holding midfielder, Peña played 27 matches with Indy and scored a stunning 40-yard right-footed match-winner into the top corner during his time State-side.
16 Ovidio LANZA
Juticalpa FC • 0/0 • 28
It took a 20-goal season, but Lanza earned his first national team call at the age of 28. The target forward worked as a mechanic before his career took off and wasn’t even playing in the top flight until Juticalpa was promoted in 2015.
11 Rony MARTINEZ
Baoding Yingli Yitong/CHN • 15/2 • 28
Not a hug target forward, but capable of combining well with his teammates and holding the ball up. He offers pace and a good work rate in leading the line. Joined his Chinese club team and made his debut on July 1. There is a chance he could return to take part in the tournament.
17 Alberth ELIS
Houston Dynamo/USA • 19/4 • 21
An exciting young talent, Elis has great pace and a directness to his game. He likes to drift to the right side of the attack where he can find space to win the ball and attack. He has a quality first touch to pull in long passes and then speed and strength to cause defences problems once he has it.
9 Anthony LOZANO
Barcelona B/ESP • 22/7 • 24
Excellent in the air and good technical skills. Like Elis he doesn’t need a lot of support to be dangerous and create a chance out of nothing. He uses technique more than pace to unlock defences, but he can score from nothing as he showed in the Olympics. Will miss the start of the tournament at least after finalizing his move to Barcelona’s reserves before joining the team in the U.S.
12 Romell QUIOTO
Houston Dynamo/USA • 29/6 • 25
Nominally a left-sided midfielder, he forms an “attacking trident” with Elis and Loano. Like Elis he looks for long balls behind the outside back so he can use his pace and dribbling skills to run at defenders. At six-foot-one, he’s bigger than he seems and he is a confident finisher with four goals in eight starts with Houston as an MLS rookie. Hospitalized in Vancouver in 2015 with a fractured rib and a collapsed lung suffered during Champions League play with his time at Olimpia.