NASHVILLE, Tenn. – They won't all be this easy, right? The US Under-23 national team didn't let up their possession or passing until the final whistle in a 6-0 rout of Cuba in theirr CONCACAF Olympic qualifying campaign on Thursday.
Their next opponent, Canada, should be a stiffer test for the US on Saturday (7 pm ET, Universal Sports Network, CONCACAF.com, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), even though the Canucks struggled against a slick but disorganized El Salvador side in their tournament opener.
The Central Americans managed to create a number of chances on quick counterattacks and probably should have gotten the win. Instead, Tony Fonseca's team escaped with a point from a brutal 0-0 draw.
If there is a silver lining to their match with the powerful Americans, it is that the Canadian coach won't have to worry about shoring up his backline's counterattack problem: If the US dominate possession again, they won’t be counterattacking much.
After overcoming some early nerves, the US passed remarkably well against Cuba, especially Corona and Mix Diskerud. Brek Shea and Freddy Adu also stood out for their poise and vision. And sure, the Americans were up a man, but US head coach Caleb Porter rightfully praised his team regardless.
"A lot of teams, even up a man, don't move the ball as well as we did," the coach said in Thursday's postgame press conference.
It will be more of the same against Canada. Porter will make a few changes in deference to the compressed schedule – perhaps Amobi Okugo and Terrence Boyd getting starts – but the attacking, pressing philosophy the coach installed over the past four months will not be altered. The faces will change a bit since this squad's strength lies in the wealth of its interchangeable parts, but the 4-3-3 formation will not.
The American backline may find itself under a bit more pressure in the second match. Canada's Marcus Haber is a tall, skilled center forward and Carl Haworth looked dangerous sneaking up the right flank. (Canada played a number of lovely diagonal balls to the winger against El Salvador. They came to naught, but the thought and space were there.) The Vancouver Whitecaps’ Bryce Alderson showed flashes of ingenuity in the center of the field.
But if Fonseca's team couldn't score against their first opponent, it's hard to see them getting anything past a much better American side.
Game 2 will center around two things: qualifying for the semifinals – which the USA can do with a victory – and improving on their performance against Cuba. Despite the rout, Porter cited some room for improvement, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. His team agreed.
"I don't think we were satisfied, either," Shea said after the match. "We were fortunate to go up a man. We were shaky. There were times when we had no pressure and we still lost the ball. [Porter] knows we are a better team and we know we're a better team."
On Saturday at LP Field, the Americans have another chance to prove they are.