PREVIEW: UNITED STATES - CUBA
The US National Team marches its way into the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup to face Cuba in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Saturday night match features one of the strongest CONCACAF sides in the USA taking on a major underdog in Cuba. The road to the quarterfinals, despite a first place finish in Group A, has been a rocky endeavor for the Americans. Following fortunate wins against Honduras, 2-1, and Haiti 1-0, the Yanks rounded off group play with a 1-1 tie against Panama.
Cuba fought its way through Group C, landing in third place after an exciting 1-0 win over Guatemala to qualify for the knockout rounds. The Cubans were rocked by Mexico in their first match, 6-0, and then soundly beat by Trinidad and Tobago, 2-0. Striker Maikel Reyes scored Cuba's lone goal against Guatemala.
Gold Cup rules allow each team to make up to six roster changes following the group stage and Coach Jurgen Klinsmann made well use of this edict. Following two sub-par performances from starting striker Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann opted to replace the robust forward with an in-form MLS target man, Alan Gordon. Young gunners Greg Garza and Alfredo Morales, though they performed adequately, were swapped in favor of CONCACAF veterans Demarcus Beasley and Joe Corona.
With his restructured roster, Klinsmann will be eager to steer his team into its first strong performance of the tournament. The inclusion of Demarcus Beasley should offer the opportunity for Fabian Johnson to slide from his left-back position up into the midfield, where he has exceled in the past for the US. Joe Corona is well rehearsed against CONCACAF competition, having competed in the last Gold Cup where he tacked two goals in helping lead the US to first place. Alan Gordon, though capped just once for the National Team, has a gritty-nature to his game-a style that should be useful against physical CONCACAF teams.
The difference makers thus far for the Americans have been, to no surprise, Captain Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey. Bradley, after notching an assist during his 100th cap against Honduras, was the lone goal scorer in the 1-1 draw against Panama. Dempsey, the only other goal scorer for the Yanks, has already found the back of the net three times, putting his career Gold Cup goal total up to eight.
In terms of team weaknesses, the American desultory defense has not been up to snuff. Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks have twice paired together in the middle, at times demonstrating great abilities, but frequent lapses in focus have been damaging. At right-back, Timmy Chandler's performance been mostly deplorable, likely prompting Klinsmann to switch up his defensive tactics.
The Americans were lucky to clinch first place during the group stage, while their tournament hopes became even more auspicious when being paired with an inferior Cuban side in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the other CONCACAF top-dogs, Mexico and Costa Rica, have been less fortunate as the two teams will face one and other on Sunday. The Yanks would not have to encounter Mexico or Costa Rica until a potential Gold Cup final.
The US holds an all-time 8-1-1 record against Cuba, with Cuba's sole win coming over sixty years ago in 1947. The teams last met in the 2013 Gold Cup, which resulted in a resounding 4-1 win for the Yanks.