HERSHEY, Pa. -- A group of put-upon players who can flat-out play soccer will arrive home shortly in tiny, impoverished Honduras knowing it is the best under-23 team in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Evidence? It beat the unbeaten, unscored-upon U.S. team on a gorgeous afternoon here, 2-1, for an Olympic qualifying-tournament championship that, while meaning nothing officially, in that both sides had clinched Summer Olympic berths, must feel so redemptive, so nice.
This was a team that, despite being threatened, the soft-spoken coach said, with two-year suspensions or lifetime bans from Honduran soccer, balked at leaving on time for Hershey until being paid promised $2,200 bonuses for making the qualifying tournament.
Then, the players arrived at 6 a.m. in rain and upper-40s temperatures and the same night got hammered, 3-0, by a U.S. squad trying to make a statement.
But yesterday, their missing star from that dismal start, Oscar David Suazo, showed why he plays for Cagliari Calcio in Serie A, Italy's top pro league, scoring marvelous goals in the 29th and 56th minutes.
He beat former Maryland defender Danny Califf for the first, crushing the ball high into the left side of the net from about 12 yards, ending 328 minutes of unscored-upon play by the U.S. team here.
Then, airborne, he twisted a six-yard header beneath backward-diving U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard for the winner.
Honduran keeper Noel Valadares, probably the tournament's best in the nets, led a defense that weathered serious U.S. pressure early, then smothered American attackers for long second-half stretches.
"Either team could have won today," a gracious U.S. coach, Clive Charles, said, noting that Valadares had "two huge saves" early.
Indeed, those shots by defender Ramiro Corrales and midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, would have been goals. But Charles emphasized his team achieved its mission in Hershey -- making the Olympics.
With at least a third of 12,126 at Hersheypark Stadium cheering wildly, Honduran players carried their coach, Enrique Maradiaga, off on their shoulders and then took a thrilling victory lap.
Yet Maradiaga, a 1982 World Cup midfielder for Honduras in the country's only appearance in that tournament, said through an interpreter afterward that he was afraid some in the soccer federation back home "wanted to stone us" for demanding the promised but undelivered bonuses.
He can only hope, he added quietly, that sponsors produce $4,000 bonuses -- a small fortune to his players -- for making the Games.
The Americans took a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on back-to-back headers in the 12th minute. Califf, now playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy, firmly nodded a ball from the top-left of the box across to forward Josh Wolff, who headed it in from about seven yards.
In yesterday's first game, Mexico relocated its attack and crushed Guatemala, 5-0, for third place, a small measure of solace after getting knocked out on penalty kicks by Honduras.