Los Catarachos have fallen from the upper echelon of Concacaf, with a group-stage exit the latest piece of evidence
The golden generation of Honduran soccer is gone, the team that went to three consecutive Gold Cup semifinals and back-to-back World Cups now a distant memory.
This Honduras won’t even get out of the Gold Cup group stage. Curacao topped Los Catrachos 1-0, the first-ever Gold Cup win for Curacao, and confirmed the final group game next week will be Hondura’s last in the tournament.
Fabian Coito is five matches into his tenure as Honduras manager. If he survives he’ll exit with a record of no wins, a pair of draws and three defeats. The aggregate is skewed by a 7-0 loss to Brazil in preparations for this tournament, but it sits at 12-3 in the favor of Honduras’ opponents.
Even so, it would be harsh for him to be given his marching orders. The long-time Uruguay youth coach has been brought in partly to build from the bottom. Honduras knows it needs fresh blood. The Norway U-20 team smashing the Honduran equivalent 12-0 at last month’s World Cup showed there is still much to do.
“As a manager, what I say is that I’m continuing to draw conclusions, but, well, logically as a manager each game is a test,” said a calm but frustrated Coito after the match. “There’s always the chance something happens depending on what happens in the games. Really, I’m not worried about being here or not being here. It’s not my decision if I’m out. If not, what interests me is try to work and move forward, turn this adverse situation around and, well, it’s not the first time this situation has happened to me in a team or national team.”
How to turn things around will be a tough decision. It would be easy to glance over the team and determine the issue is with Honduras’ aging back line. It certainly is a spot that should bring concern in the upcoming years. But the 36-year-old Maynor Figueroa, 33-year-old Emilio Izaguirre and 33-year-old Brayan Beckeles, who left the contest at halftime, bear little blame for the early elimination. Even if it was the 26-year-old Henry Figueroa whose heroic last-gasp tackle prevented a second Curacao goal, the rest of the unit mostly pulled their weight as well.
The real culpable player was Curacao goalkeeper Eloy Room. The PSV No. 2 is undoubtedly Curacao’s No. 1, making 13 stops. Nine of those came in the first half, with Alberth Elis darting down the right wing and looking to set up center forward Antony Lozano or Michaell Chirinos on the other side. Even when one of the players found a good effort, Room was there to block, tip over the bar or smother the ball.
“I wanted to help the team and get the first victory in the Gold Cup. So many saves, I didn’t count them in the game,” Room told Goal after the contest. “But I wanted to win. After the game, everyone was happy after we won the game – especially for the fans of Curacao and our island. We won the game, and I’m proud of the team. I helped the team win it, and that’s nice.”
Coming up on the wrong end of an historic triumph, and at that one that eliminated the team from the knockout stage, always was going to be frustrating. But Coitio said the team lost its way late in the second half, letting the moment get the best of it. Room’s heroics played no small part in adding to the mental anguish of the Hondurans, who were urged on by a partisan crowd at BBVA Stadium but never seemed to have the energy to mount a serious late charge.
“Of course we were frustrated by that, and everything else. We tried to score but weren’t able to do it,” Figueroa said of the goalkeeper’s fantastic evening. “There are games where you have no chances, but obviously we have the responsibility to finish.”
Coito said he hasn’t considered stepping aside, but Figueroa and several other veterans may be wondering about their international careers. The Nations League, and the pressure of a potential relegation, looms large as does another World Cup qualification cycle. Figueroa and his defensive counterparts may consider retirement, but who will replace them? Does Honduras’ pool really contain up-and-comers overlooked by Coito?
Victor “Muma” Bernardez attempted to retire internationally after the 2014 World Cup only for the coaching staff to attempt to lure him back. There simply were no other options as good as the veteran. That’s not a good situation, but it’s the situation Honduras finds itself in once again.
How to get better? For Figueroa, it’s not about mixing things up but rather about pushing even harder in the way Honduras has been pushing.
“We have to do the same thing. When you win, you have to keep working, and when you lose, work even harder. We’ve got to keep working, getting better,” Figueroa said. “There are a lot of things to improve upon, and that’s it. Keep believing, keep trying every day.”
That may be good advice for individual players, but Honduran fans will find it hard to continue believing in this national team. With the glory days so clearly gone, it’s hard to blame them.