Playoffs out of reach, but drama not over

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Playoffs out of reach, but drama not over

SANTA CLARA -- The Earthquakes didnt even take the field on Tuesday night, yet found themselves quietly eliminated on a night when the American soccer world was focused on events well outside the Bay Area. In New York, the Red Bulls hosted the Los Angeles Galaxy and duly won 2-0, a result that opened an insurmountable gap between the Earthquakes and the playoff spots. The Earthquakes currently have 32 points, with Houston and New York sitting in the last two playoff berths with 43 points each. With three games remaining, even the maximum nine points would put them at 41 points, just shy of the playoffs. We have no one to blame but ourselves, Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski told CSNBayArea.com. We were put in that position and anytime you need help its never a good situation, so were definitely frustrated about that, but thats not going to change our outlook on these last three games.

Despite their elimination from the playoff race, the Earthquakes will have plenty to focus on as the season draws to a close. Head coach Frank Yallop highlighted that he is not expecting anything different from his players and that he expects the team to build on the positive play it has shown in starts and fits over the past couple months. We have to make sure we are trying to the right things and making sure that we have a good end to the season, Yallop said to CSNBayArea.com. Again, weve played pretty well the last few months, couple of months, and I think that needs to continue in the next three games. In addition to finishing the season strong and playing well, there is another, more tangible story surrounding the Earthquakes: Wondolowskis pursuit of a second consecutive Golden Boot, awarded to the top scorer in MLS. The Danville native is currently tied with two other players for second place in scoring charts, with 12 goals to his name. D.C. United attacker and ex-Earthquake Dwayne De Rosario and New Yorks Thierry Henry are currently tied for the lead with 14 goals apiece. However, Wondolowski downplayed the importance of his chase for the scoring title. Its just one of those things that when you start thinking about it, you wont score, so you just have to go out there and play hard and hope that you can create some opportunities and finish them, so thats the plan, he said. Wondolowski has thrived most in front of goal when given good service by his teammates, but insisted that regardless of what the players around him are doing, the onus was on him to get the ball in the back of the net. You just have to let it come, try and play as good soccer as you can and chances will come and its on me to finish them, he added. For his part Yallop maintained that Wondolowski would continue to start, but not simply because of his quest for another scoring title. Wondos earned his right to play, so hell play, probably all the games running until the end of the season, Yallop said. It would be nice if he could get the Golden Boot again. Its better when you win it in a winning season and you go into the playoffs with that tally, but hes done well. While Yallop indicated last week that he would likely stick close to the lineups he has fielded in the past month or two, on Wednesday he indicated the possibility of starts ahead for some of the teams younger players as well as some of those who are recovering from injury. Theres not a ton of players available, but well see, Yallop said, referring to his teams struggle with injury throughout the season. I might give some young guys a start here and there, but well see. When prompted about the situations of some of his injured players, Yallop highlighted two players in particular. Forward Alan Gordon was acquired from Toronto FC in July, but only managed to feature in two matches before undergoing surgery to repair torn muscles. Promising defender Ike Opara, meanwhile, has missed the better pat of two seasons through injury, including a large chunk 2011 because of a foot injury. Alans got a chance, but Ikes one that were not too sure on right now he said. We wont risk them though only if theyre 100 well play them. While their absence from the playoff chase could diminish the thrill of the final games of the season for many, there is still plenty to see from the Earthquakes, whether its Wondolowskis charge for a second scoring title or simply an indication of what the team will do to avoid a similar situation in 2012.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer chatter, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

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AP

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.

What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras

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USATSI

What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras

The United States Men's National Team faces a critical match against Honduras. 

With an 0-2 record, and currently in last place, the USMNT is on the brink of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Motivation across the sports world is pouring in for the Red, White and Blue.