Like the manager of fellow group member Ecuador, Reinaldo Rueda, Luis Fernando Suarez is Colombian. He also has managed Ecuador, just as Rueda has also managed Honduras. This should all make for an interesting group stage for both managers. His demeanor and managerial style can be summed up in one word: decisive. A real giant of a man with a commanding presence, he looks like he could beat up most of his players and leads his team like a drill sergeant (he once reprimanded defender Victor Bernardez for wearing a baseball cap to the training ground).
Defensive minded and not entirely attractive, Honduras likes to set up shop and let their opponents come to them. They are a good technical side, however, and look good on the ball going forward when the wish to do so. They are well known among their fans for being overly lazy at times, however, with misdirected passes and players disappearing for long stretches. Like Randy Moss, they play when they want to play. And it looks like they didn’t feel like playing against Israel on the first of June, losing 4-2 in a scoreline that, truly, flattered them.
Noel Valladares has been the Honduran first choice keeper for over ten years. He has 122 caps and the armband. He is CONCACAF’s answer to Iker Casillas. Known for being shy and reclusive, he has the knowing eyes and wry smile of a true introvert, a rarity in high profile sports. He turned professional initially as a striker, but later converted to keeping. He has played in the Honduran domestic league his entire club career.
MLS fans will be more than familiar with the aforementioned Victor Bernardez, known affectionately as Muma, and will be the defender to watch for Honduras in Brazil. His passionate style of playing—every ball in contention, every throw-in a matter of life or death—is exactly what Honduran supporters wants from their entire starting XI every single match. He does not wear the armband, but he is the leader of the outfield players, and whether or not his style is contagious will be key to his team’s success this summer.
When a team is so obviously lacking creativity in the midfield, it is almost painfully obvious, and Honduras is one of those teams. The squad cries out for a player who can spot the run, who knows where the space is, whose movement off the ball gives defenders hives and who can make magic out of nothing. Right now, the closest they have to a “creative” player is Wilson Palacios, and he is only creative in the dozens of different ways he knows how to foul an opponent.
Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengston. Yes, that is two. For when they on the pitch together, they score, but when Coach Suarez picks one or the other to start up top alone, they don’t. Suarez has left La Liga starlet Jona Mejia at home, and in doing so has put all his eggs in one basket with Costly and Bengston. If they score, look for Honduras to do well—but if the pair goes cold, Honduras is in heaps of trouble.
There are lots to name here, and many – the lazy play, the lack of creativity – have been mentioned, but the one problem with Honduras is their relative inexperience at the highest levels of international play. Only about half of the squad going to Brazil also went to South Africa. And this lack of playing time under the brightest lights in world football in the simmering cauldron of the World Cup might simply be too much for what is otherwise a battle proven group of players.
Suarez has had very public rows with Bengston, Costly and Bernandez, just to name three. He pulls no punches when it comes to disciplining his players through strongly worded media releases or out right suspensions when they have displeased him. If Honduras are winning, then this “tough love” will not be a problem, but if things go pear-shaped in Brazil, dissension and mutiny in the Honduran locker room might very well be the talk of the group stages.
Winger Andy Najar—who has been in the form of his life with Anderlecht in the Dutch league—is ready for his coming out party in Brazil. Only 21 years old, he plays with a recklessness and confidence on the ball that only the youth and the truly brilliant possess. He passes the ball like a geometry major would on paper —like he is the reincarnation of Minnesota Fats. He is the future of football in Honduras. His introduction to the world stage is this summer, and look for him to be wearing the armband for his country in 2018. (All of this will be a thorn in the side of the USA supporters, for while he is not a US citizen, he was wooed by US Soccer and could have chosen the red, white and blue if he so desired.)
Honduras did not score a goal in South Africa in 2010, but that is expected to change. Look for them to give teams trouble, but a trip to the second round is just not in the cards. At this point, it is baby steps for this young team: score some goals in Brazil, then shoot for the quarterfinals in Russia.