Bobby Wood had his name written in most of the headlines following his 85th minute goal in Tuesday’s crucial 1-1 World Cup Qualifying draw at Honduras, but the vital equalizer was a true team effort, involving no less than six players on the field from start to finish.
Trailing late, the U.S. pushed the attack looking for the tying goal and earned a great opportunity when Christian Pulisic was fouled 27 yards out, almost dead center from goal.
There, Clint Dempsey and Kellyn Acosta stood over the ball. In the moment, the safe money might have been on Dempsey to take the free kick – he had scored one against Honduras to complete his hat trick back on March 24 and added another vs. Costa Rica in the Gold Cup Semifinal.
Having endured nearly 80 minutes in the blistering heat and despite his free kick prowess, the MNT’s joint all-time leading goal scorer deferred to his younger teammate.
“He just asked me how I was feeling about it, and I told him I wanted to go for it,” he told ussoccer.com
Acosta himself has found the back of the net twice on dead ball opportunities this year – once with FC Dallas in CONCACAF Champions League play vs. Pachuca on March 15, and again in the USA’s 2-1 friendly win against Ghana on July 1 in East Hartford.
“It’s something I’ve definitely been working on and I’ve had the confidence to strike it,” Acosta said. “I’ve been connecting well and making it hard on the ‘keepers.”
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Acosta lining up to take the strike sent a signal to his teammates.
“You immediately become alive because he’s really good at those types of free kicks,” said MNT defender Matt Besler. “The way that he’s able to get it up and over the wall makes it really hard for goalkeepers, so even if a ‘keeper is able to save it, more than likely he’s not going to be able to catch it.”
“That was in my head to start, just knowing that if Kellyn is able to get this on frame, it’s either going in or there’s probably going to be a rebound. I timed my run to try and get a yard or two on the guy that was marking me in case the ball did spill out.”
Acosta’s take didn’t disappoint, swinging his effort high to the right post where Honduras goalkeeper Luis López made a great acrobatic save with his left hand, and somewhat unnaturally pushing the ball back across the goal frame.
“At first I thought it hit off the crossbar,” Acosta said. “I think he just swatted at it – it was still a great save.”
The save ended up being favorable for the U.S. as three players – Besler, Jordan Morris and Wood - were overloaded on the left side. Besler was the closest to the rebound, and admitted that his eyes opened wide when at first sight of the spill, but had to change his mentality as he closed in.
“The way the ball bounced off the rebound, it actually had a lot of spin on it and was going out of bounds,” he said. “At that point, I made the split-second decision to try and kick the ball across the goal. I wasn’t trying to pick anyone out by any means, just trying to save it from going out of bounds, put it back across the goal and see what happens.”
Falling to the ground, Besler desperately flicked the ball up in the air, doing well enough to clear the challenge from substitute Johnny Palacios.
As the ball came back down to earth, Morris was there to meet it, rising above the challenge of Henry Figueroa to nod it on and keep the play alive.
“We knew that we needed a goal. It was just trying to keep the play going,” Morris said. “It came to me and I was just trying to flick it on to put it back into play.”
Wood followed the play all the way and found himself with a nice bit of space between Maynor Figueroa and Ever Alvarado just inside the six-yard box. As the ball fell to Wood, he cleverly chested down to gain more space, and the pure striker’s instinct came into play.
“Just finish the play,” Wood said of what he was thinking. “That’s it. Just finish the goal.”
The forward let it bounce before an outside of the foot volley with his right tucked shot past López and sent the 35,000 plus inside San Pedro Sula’s Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano into stunned silence as the U.S. celebrated the critical goal.
“I wasn’t looking for Bobby, but he was there where he needed to be,” Morris said.
“Bobby was in the right place at the right time, and he had enough composure to stick it in the back of the goal,” added Besler.
A team goal in the truest sense helped the U.S. leave Honduras with a point, and most importantly keep control of its World Cup qualifying destiny.