Gold Cup: Oguchi Onyewu ready to step in as USMNT looks to shore up defense

SANDY, Utah – Coming off a 6-1 rout might not seem like the optimal time to juggle a lineup, but with the USMNT’s CONCACAF Gold Cup schedule only getting tougher after the opener against Belize, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is not only making changes, but demanding even more from his players.

Though Klinsmann would only indicate Oguchi Onyewu – set to make his first competitive appearance for the US since June 8, 2012 after being rested in Portland – as the only specific change he’d make in the lineup when the US takes on Cuba at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday (3:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), he intimated that others were coming.

The Scouting Report: USA vs. Cuba

“We might take that opportunity and change in a couple positions, not too many,” he told reporters at a press conference on Friday. “We play a game three days later, a very, very tough side as well in Costa Rica, but first comes this match.

“This is a very strong group here and they all want to prove a point. It’s easier for players to prove a point when they play, so hopefully we can give a couple of guys a chance to shine as well and take it one game at a time.”

READ: Mystery men? US confident of solving under-the-radar Cuba side

And with the changes come the added responsibility of the new faces in the lineup to shore things up on defense, where a lapse in set piece marking provided the lone blemish in the team’s otherwise impressive demolition of Belize on Tuesday. Michael Parkhurst lost his mark on a Belize restart, allowing the Central American minnows to pull things back to 2-1, if only for a minute.

“With every mistake you pay for it, you discuss that and approach it, and especially if it comes from a set piece, we talk about it, we train on it and try to avoid it,” Klinsmann explained. “Goals only happen because of mistakes from the receiving end. Therefore it’s something we discuss and analyze and try to improve.”

Onyewu, who has easily seen the most games in defense of anyone on the Gold Cup roster, agreed, and called for improved focus from himself and his teammates as they prepare to take on a Cuba side that should offer a sterner test than Belize.

READ: Everything going right for the USMNT as they prepare to take on Cuba 

“Obviously on set pieces everybody has their responsibility although it’s a team effort,” the Málaga defender explained. “Especially on set pieces, you can’t shut down mentally and you have to keep your focus, and in that moment there was a lapse in concentration and we paid the price for that with the goal.”

US goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was in goal against Belize and will look to play his in front of his hometown fans in a national team jersey for the first time, noted that although the mistake was an easy fix, it was one that could help determine the outcome of the game against Cuba.

“It’s easy to kind of clear up when it’s a missed mark, but again, free kicks are vital and can determine an outcome so we have to be ready for them,” he told reporters on Friday. “I think it’s something Klinsmann didn’t have to say, something he let the players take personally. We knew what we did wrong and ironed it out, and it’s something we’re looking forward to not misplaying again.”