USA vs Cuba
July 13, 2013, 3:30 pm ET
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Watch on FOX/Univision | Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com
Jurgen Klinsmann and the US national team look to keep the good vibes flowing on another stop through rocky Utah as they host Cuba in their second Group C match of the Gold Cup. The increasingly confident Yanks have racked up 12 goals in their last two outings and will be aiming for another fruitful outing against Los Leones del Caribe, who nonetheless remain heavy underdogs after their tournament-opening 3-0 loss to Costa Rica on Tuesday.
While the reigning champions of the Caribbean should put up more resistance than Belize did in Portland, few expect the USMNT to be unduly troubled in this match, which itself complicates the task for them. A massed defense should again test the fluidity of Klinsmann's creativity-infused squad, and several key players will effectively be auditioning for starting roles in next week's tougher test against Costa Rica in Connecticut.
The US made an historic visit to Havana to play Cuba in the semifinal round of 2010 World Cup qualifying, marking their first match in the reclusive communist nation in 61 years with a tight 1-0 victory on Sept. 6, 2008. These teams also met in Seattle in the group stage of the 2005 Gold Cup, when the Yanks overcame a surprising early deficit to win 4-1 as Landon Donovan came off the bench and scored two goals in the late going. Donovan did even better in their 2003 Gold Cup clash, notching four goals in the USMNT's 5-0 rout at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Nearly everything has come up roses for the Yanks so far this month, with several inspiring individual stories like the renaissances of Stuart Holden and Donovan adding to the overall narrative of a hybrid group on the road to redemption via a Gold Cup trophy. Everyone is hoping to carve out a place in Klinsmann's 2014 World Cup calculations and the forward-leaning nature of the tactics and personnel make the process particularly enjoyable for fans and players alike.
The specifics of the USA's first-choice lineup for this event remain in doubt, however, thanks to the technical staff's experimentation and rotation in light of the packed, draining schedule that likely lies ahead. Chris Wondolowski hopes more goals can build his credentials for a starting spot and there is not enough room to fit Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Jose Torres, Mix Diskerud and Holden – who seems to have more than earned a chance to go a full 90 minutes – in the same midfield.
Whether talking about soccer, culture or politics, it's hard to avoid the ghosts of the past when discussing Cuba and in the context of the Gold Cup, that inevitably leads back to the question of morale and mindset in coach Wálter Benítez's squad.
Do they truly believe they can rally and hunt down one of the third-place berths to the knockout stages? Is there a goal threat capable of troubling the imperious Yanqui defense? And will there be defections?
Ariel Martínez is one to watch when Los Leones find a way into the attacking end, while Armando Coroneaux and José Alfonso are forward alternatives who came off the bench in their last game as Benítez hunted for effective combinations.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Stuart Holden
It's hard not to be moved by the gritty comeback of the Bolton Wanderers midfielder and former Houston Dynamo star after some two years of injury heartache. His quick contributions to the US cause after that long layoff are also impressive, with Holden already convincing some observers that he deserves consideration for a starting role in the USMNT's “A team” sooner than later. Will Klinsmann give him the start he craves?
CUBA – Odelín Molina
Holden is the fresh-faced fan favorite this month, but middle-aged viewers can find particular inspiration in the staying power of Cuba's 38-year-old goalkeeper, who has contributed to the program for the better part of two decades. He'll need to have a career night for his team to have any hopes of an upset result in Sandy.
GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP/Portugal), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg/Sweden), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Stuart Holden (Bolton/England), Brek Shea (Stoke City/England), Jose Torres (Tigres UANL/Mexico)
FORWARDS: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS: Odelín Molina, Julio Ramos, Diosvelis Guerra
DEFENDERS: Michel Márquez, Jorge Luis Clavelo, Joel Colomé, Jorge Luis Corrales, Aliannis Urgellés, Renay Malblanche, Ángel Horta
MIDFIELDERS: Yénier Márquez, Yasmany López, Jaime Colomé, José Ciprian Alfonso, Ariel Martínez, Livan Pérez, Dairon Blanco, Alberto Gómez
FORWARDS: Armando Coroneaux, Miguel Ángel Sánchez, Alexei Zuásnabar, Yoandir Puga, Jesús Rodríguez