BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, March 23, 2012
United States vs Cuba
Olympic Qualifying - Thursday March 22, 2012
The US Under-23 team started off their Olympic qualifying run in strong fashion as a Joe Corona had trick lead to a convincing win over poor Cuba at LP Field in Nashville.
With the large talent gap between the two teams, Cuba began the game in a heavily defensive approach with mostly 10 players behind the goal.
The US opened the game in an attacking mindset playing in their usual 4-3-3 formation under head coach Caleb Porter.
The US opened the scoring in the 11th minute. The play began on a long free kick that was taken by US captain Freddy Adu. Adu's kick was punched away by Cuba goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper but his clearance found US midfielder Joe Corona who took one touch with his chest then fired a shot into the back of the net to give the Americans a deserved 1-0 lead.
"It was huge," Adu said of the opening goal. "When you're playing a team like Cuba, they defended pretty well. They sit behind the ball and they work hard. As soon as you get that first goal, you take a huge sigh of relief because the game is going to open up."
The game got ugly for Cuba quickly afterward. In the 19th minute Dario Macias was given a straight red card an elbow on Juan Agudelo.
"I was just trying to play soccer and hold the ball as a forward," Agudelo said. "I guess he thought I was going to beat him with speed. He just took me down."
Porter felt that the red card helped the US but it did not change the team's approach.
"I think clearly the red card played into the game," Porter analyzed. "But I like to think that we would have still played in a similar way. A lot of teams even up a man don't move the ball as well as we did."
In the 37th minute the US doubled their lead when Shea hit a beautiful cross from the left side that found Juan Agudelo open six yards out from the goal and the New York Red Bull forward scored from a point blank header.
In the 40th minute the US put the game out of reach when Mix Diskerud got open inside the box and hit a wide open Corona who scored with a shot on his first touch to give the Americans a 3-0 lead.
"Not only are [Diskerud, Jeffrey, and Corona] technical and intelligent tactically, they are also honest defensively," Porter said of his defense. "I also thought they were a little soft overall in the first half as a group. Those three guys I thought could have been a little bit harder through the middle. But I thought in the second half it was much better."
In the 43rd minute the game became a rout when Shea broke past the Cuban defense and set a pass for Agudelo that Cuban defender Archeell Hernandez sent into his own net for a 4-0 lead.
Despite the one-sided score at the break, Porter was not happy with the game early on.
"[I'm] not satisfied though with the performance," Porter said bluntly. "I think that even though the result was lopsided, I still thought it could have been better - especially earlier in the game."
In the second half, the Americans would largely coast through as Cuba tired.
In the 63rd minute, however the small crowd was treated to brilliant goal from Adu who turned and fired a laser into the net from 25 yards for a 5-0 lead.
"It was a good goal," Porter said. "It was a great finish. He is really flourishing in the way we are playing. We like him on that right side. He comes inside as a second attacking mid at times and finds little pockets of space. It's difficult to pick him up in that position. He can kind of sit in seam. He can play a final pass. He can score."
In the 88th minute, Corona completed his hat trick when he took a pass from Diskerud and fired a shot that deflected off a defender and went past Cooper for a 6-0 lead.
"It was my first three goals actually with the national team," Corona said of his hat trick. "I am very happy about that. I feel very good. The coaches and the players have received me very well. I have a lot of confidence. I feel at home. The other players are very good teammates. I'm happy here."
Corona played with Mexican youth national teams last year but has been with the US team every camp since the team began to assemble last November. So far, he appreciates the freedom he has to make plays.
"I have a lot of freedom," Corona said. "That's one of the things [Porter] expresses to me a lot. It gives me that liberty to be free on the ball. I think that's something that helps me a lot because I feel that I am that type of player."
For Diskerud it was his second assist of the game and he enjoys playing the highly technical game under Porter.
"It's the best thing there is," Diskerud said. "I love playing that style of soccer. Caleb wants us to play like that and we want to play like that. A lot of the players are technical players and we want to keep the ball. In a lot of the minutes tonight, we played how we wanted to play. I think it's fun for the crowd to watch."
Shortly after the final whistle blew and United States walked off the field with a deserved three points.
The US win combined with a draw in the game between Canada and El Salvador means the US now sits in first place in Group A.
On Saturday the US team returns to action and will play Canada.