SANDY, Utah – Out of all the scenarios the United States may have imagined in an eventual 4-1 win in their Gold Cup showdown with Cuba, being down at the halftime was unlikely to be high on their list.
Yet that was the position they nearly found themselves in after getting hit on the counter by Jose Ciprian in the 36th minute after a tepid performrnce that saw them register their first shot of the evening, a slow roller that was easily saved, two minutes prior to going down.
“I think we came out with a little bit of overconfidence,” Joe Corona, whose 54th-minute strike put the US ahead for good. “It was a little bit sloppy in the first half because they had all their men behind our forwards. But I think as the game kept going we wore them down and we managed to open those spaces.”
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann agreed that his team’s sense of urgency really didn’t step up until they found themselves a goal down following a quick counterattack, which saw Cuba winger tear down the right flank to the byline and cut back to Ciprian for the finish.
“It definitely helps you to get things a bit more urgent when you suddenly get a goal down out of nothing,” Klinsmann told reporters in the postgame press conference.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, a mere spectator as Ciprian got around Oguchi Onyewu and laced the ball into the net, also praised his team’s response.
“The guys were confident,” Rimando, make his first USMNT appearance in front of his hometown crowd, reflected.” They knew they made a mistake in the back but to respond the way we did and get the three points and the four goals was huge.”
However, Klinsmann also cited the elements as a factor in his teams sluggish start. Intermittent rain on a hot summer day in Utah turned into a pair of downpours, one immediately prior to kickoff and another shortly after play had started.
“It was a bit interesting because the rain came, and then suddenly the air was really heavy. We felt it on the bench out there,” he explained. “Coming out of the locker room, they were ready; they had good energy. It happens sometimes where the energy isn't there anymore when they start the game, but then you have to work yourself into the game.
“If you have a difficult moment and maybe you feel the air is a bit heavy and you can't breathe as well, you just got to go through it."
Luckily for the US, they were saved the deflating prospect of going into halftime behind to a team most predicted they would beat easily when Landon Donovan converted an injury-time penalty kick after Edgar Castillo was fouled in the box, which set the scene for a dominant second half.
“Yeah, it was huge,” Rimando said of Donovan’s goal. “You can’t just drop, especially when you’re a goal down in front of your home crowd.”
Despite the impressive sequence that led to PK and the equalizer, Klinsmann noted that he was only truly pleased with what he saw once the second half was done and dusted, having picked up a comfortable win.
“I just told them at halftime to speed it up a level or two,” the coach said. “We had a lot of movement off the ball, better than the first half, and they eventually [Cuba] were also getting tired. And then the goals came."