SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras: Hamburg striker Bobby Wood scored a late equalizer to salvage a crucial 1-1 draw for the United States in their World Cup qualifier with Honduras on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Wood bundled in an 85th-minute leveller just 12 minutes after coming on as a substitute to rescue a point for the Americans in sweltering conditions at the Olimpico Metropolitano Stadium.
The result means that Bruce Arena’s side still has automatic qualification in their own hands, with a home match against Panama next month followed by an away game against Trinidad & Tobago.
If the US win both of those games, they will be assured of reaching next year’s finals in Russia.
“That’s a huge point for the US team,” US coach Arena said afterward. “I’m really proud of our team,” he added.
Arena insisted the team had not set out to play for a draw—and added that the US path to Russia is still far from straightforward.
“We didn’t come here to play for a point. We fell behind a goal and tried to get it back. The team deserves credit for getting a point,” he said.
“There’s not even a crack open in the door to Russia for us. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
It was a lucky escape for the US, who had been beaten in their previous game on Friday against Costa Rica and could not afford a second defeat here.
Arena rolled the dice with seven changes from the team beaten by Costa Rica, but the gamble appeared set to backfire when Romell Quioto punished sloppy US defending midway through the first half to score.
The best US chance of the opening 45 minutes came when Christian Pulisic played a one-two with Morris only to see his shot saved.
There was little more to cheer for the US fans in the second half, as Arena’s men struggled to make any impression on the hosts.
The best chances of the second half fell to the Hondurans, with Alexander Lopez seeing a thunderous shot on 61 minutes parried by Brad Guzan.
Anthony Lozano also continued to cause problems, and saw his shot crash into the outside of the stanchion on 77th minute after he had skipped clear of Michael Bradley.
With what would have been a disastrous defeat beckoning, the US were given a lifeline five minutes from time with a free kick in a dangerous position.
Kellyn Acosta stepped up to curl a shot against the bar and in the ensuing melee, Wood coolly tucked away the finish.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Costa Rica squandered the chance to book their ticket to Russia after being held 1-1 at home by Mexico.
Mexico, who have already qualified, took the lead through a Cristian Gamboa own goal on 42 minutes. Costa Rica hit back through Marco Urena seven minutes from time.
In the other game, Panama moved into the automatic qualifying places in third spot after defeating Trinidad and Tobago 3-0.