If the United States is to return to the Olympics in men’s soccer, they will need to overcome a familiar opponent. After successfully navigating the group stage, round of 16, and quarterfinals, a winner-take-all matchup with Los Catrachos with a ticket to Paris 2024 on the line awaits for the under-20s and the Chicago Fire’s Chris Brady. While Honduras have knocked the U.S. out of the last two Olympic qualifying tournaments in 2016 and 2021 respectively, this year’s competition will have the added element of being in San Pedro Sula, in front of a sold-out pro-Honduran crowd at Estadio Morazán.
Chicago Fire homegrown and Fire II starter Chris Brady joined up with the U-20 group last month, while Gaga Slonina and Brian Gutiérrez were not released. Brady, whose national team opportunities have been limited due to the presence of Slonina for several years, has seized this chance to showcase himself on the international stage thus far.
Since FC Dallas’ Antonio Carrera was given the nod the tournament opener, a 10-0 win over St. Kitts and Nevis, Brady has started every game. Admittedly, he didn’t have a lot to do as the U.S. progressed through the tournament with wins including 3-0 and 5-0 demolitions of Cuba and Nicaragua respectively, but when the Americans reached the quarterfinals he stepped up. The U.S. faced Costa Rica last Tuesday with U-20 World Cup qualification on the line, and Brady made five saves, helping his team to a 2-0 win. Joining the United States as Concacaf’s representatives at the World Cup will be Honduras and the Dominican Republic, as well as Guatemala who qualified at the expense of heavily-favored Mexico and Canada.
As previously mentioned, Gaga Slonina missed out on this U-20 tournament as he has been the starting goalkeeper for the Fire first team. Nonetheless, he has been following the exploits of the squad down in Honduras and has remained in contact with U-20 Head Coach Mikey Varas. After Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, Gaga had some words of encouragement for the U.S.A. group, as well as his longtime team-mate Brady:
“I’m just wishing Chris [Brady] the best of luck. He’s been playing well, keeping clean sheets… he’s representing Chicago well, and representing the Fire well, so good luck to him and the whole team.”
Gaga Slonina sends good luck to the U-20 team ahead of their semifinal on Friday:— Alex Calabrese (@amcalabrese12) June 30, 2022
“I’m wishing them the best of luck… they looked great on the field last night and hopefully they can get the job done on Friday.”#cf97 #usynt pic.twitter.com/c0yE0f5taw
Brian Gutiérrez was somewhat surprisingly not released by the Fire for the qualifiers, but he too has been keeping up with the competition. Even though he hasn’t been a part of the Qualifiers, he, like Slonina, still has an eye on the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.
“It’s a big goal of mine, making the U-20 World Cup. If we make the Olympics, that’s another goal that I have in mind.”
USA vs Honduras Preview
Both the United States and Honduras enter this semifinal undefeated in the competition. The U.S. hasn’t played in the Olympics for men’s soccer since 2008, when the likes of Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, and Freddy Adu were under-23 eligible players. Honduras, on the other hand, has made the last four Olympics, and five of the last six. As previously mentioned, Honduras eliminated the U.S. in the semifinals of the last two Olympic qualifiers.
After a strong shot-stopping performance against Costa Rica, Chris Brady will more than likely start in goal. The defense was something of a question mark coming into the tournament, and while Honduras will be the biggest test so far, Brady enters the match on the trail of three consecutive shutouts. The U.S. struggled to play out of the back against Los Ticos, and that is a weakness that Honduras may seek to exploit with a high press.
Despite the defensive worry, the offense has been flowing for the USA. Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, and Diego Luna have been the most productive attackers for a team lacking an actual number nine. Unfortunately, one alternative attacking option, Cade Cowell, is unavailable for this match due to suspension. Alejandro Alvarado, Mauricio Cuevas, and Caden Clark have also been impressive.
The match will kick off at 8 PM Central Time. It will be aired on FS1 and TUDN.
Projected USA Lineup: