BALTIMORE – In a tournament that’s been anything but predictable, something finally went as planned.
The United States men’s national team welcomed Cuba to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon for a balmy Gold Cup quarterfinal, the heavily favored Americans looking to book their spot in the tournament’s semis with a win over the overmatched Cubans.
Predictably enough, the US were dominant. Riding a hat trick from Clint Dempsey — his first ever with the national team — and tallies from Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannson and Omar Gonzalez, The Yanks made short work of Cuba, the 6-0 result setting a record for largest margin of victory for a US side at a Gold Cup.
A pro-US crowd of more than 40,000 was still settling into their seats when the Americans notched their opener. In the fourth minute, Zardes laid a ball back to defender Timmy Chandler some 25 yards from goal. Chandler swung a well-placed cross into the box that Dempsey made short work of, nodding the ball home from just inside the penalty spot.
In the 15th minute, the US doubled their lead; Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Fabian Johnson’s service into the box was similar to Chandler’s, landing right at the feet of Zardes on the far side of the area. Zardes’ right-footed finish was too much for Cuban ‘keeper Diosvelis Guerra.
The Cubans - massive underdogs to start — were dealt a further blow earlier in the week when with the defection of forward Ariel Martinez, who became the fifth player to leave the squad since their arrival in the US. Martinez likely wouldn’t have helped much — at no point in Saturday’s match did Cuba cause the USMNT any real discomfort.
The US’ third, in the 32nd minute, was likely their prettiest tally of the match. Michael Bradley’s 30-yard pass found Johannson, and the AZ Alkmaar forward controlled the service and deftly chipped it up and over a poorly positioned Guerra from 18-yards out, notching his first goal of the tournament. Zardes nearly duplicated the feat 10 minutes later, but his lofted effort from the same spot was just a bit too high.
The US capped off the half with another tally — Johannson nodded a Bradley corner kick toward the top of the six, where Gonzalez knocked it home from close range.
The lone USMNT setback in the match occurred at halftime, when Chandler was subbed out with what a team spokesman described as “right knee soreness."
On the other side of the whistle, the rout continued. In the 63rd minute, Cuban defender Angel Horta brought Dempsey down in the area, and he stepped up to take the ensuing penalty, calmly knocking the attempt straight down the middle for his second goal of the match.
Dempsey completed the hat trick in the 77th minute; Bradley collected a loose ball near the center stripe, sprinted forward into the area and knocked a low ball across the box to the Sounder, who poked it home with a sliding effort from he far side of the six-yard box.
The win sent the US to the semifinal round of the tournament, where they’ll face either Jamaica or Haiti in Atlanta on Wednesday.