The US just beat Cuba 6-0. Mexico beat Cuba 6-0 to open their Gold Cup campaign. Therefore, by the transitive property, we should be in for a hell of a Gold Cup final – assuming that the two favorites get the job done and actually make it that far.
There's not a lot to take away from the US win, tactically or even individually speaking. Cuba defied the odds just to make it this far, especially without the handful of players who defected over the past few weeks, and the US attack was more or less a warm knife through butter.
I was surprised at how high Cuba played right from the start (they didn't bunker, which played right into our hands), and at how bad the Cuban goalkeeper's haircut was. Other than that, almost everything about this game was unremarkable.
And that is exactly what you'd hope for when the US goes up against one of the minnows of CONCACAF. While most of the region has progressed on the field since the turn of the century, Cuba has stood in place over the last decade-and-a-half.
Could that change as US and Cuban relations apparently head toward normalization?
I think it will, slowly, over the next decade. This is not a super simple concept, as Jorge points out:
Jorge also wrote about what he termed "the glacial pace" of soccer's evolution (read it) on the island. He was not encouraged.
Nonetheless, I still have my money on "Cuba gets really good, CONCACAF-ly speaking, by 2025." My former boss Jonah Freedman wrote about the reasons why (read it) about three years ago, and he remains steadfast in his belief that the sky is the limit:
Focus on sports/fitness in Cuba is huge. If they were allowed to foreign leagues, they'd be No. 3 in CONCACAF. https://t.co/0U6pgDsIUo— Jonah Freedman (@jonahfreedman) July 18, 2015
Here's a quote taken from that column, via Montreal Impact legend Eduardo Sebrango:
“One day, if players can play professionally in other leagues, Cuba will be a powerhouse competing very easily with the US and Mexico and the other powerhouses in CONCACAF,” Sebrango said. “Because we have the talent and ability. We just need the experience.”
But how quickly will the experience come? Charitably, I saw maybe three MLS-caliber players on the Cuban team that took the field against Mexico, and one in today's romp. MLS isn't going to be the path to program-wide improvement for Cuba.
USL, however, could very well be. They've already spoken of expanding to 40 teams by the end of the decade, and most Caribbean nations are represented well on most USL rosters. NASL's expansion plans aren't quite so grand, but even if they go with the "slow and steady" course, we'd be looking at 50-plus lower division teams in the US and Canada by 2020, to go with 24 (ish) MLS teams.
That's a lot of soccer jobs.
The other path for Cuban players would be the one so often scorned by US fans: the NCAA. While that route has proved to be inadequate at producing world champions (at least on the men's side), college ball has steadily raised the level of the game in other parts of the Caribbean. And hell, maybe you can't produce Cristiano Ronaldo via the college route, but you can produce Deshorn Brown, or Jordan Morris, or Clint Dempsey – who only had three goals today.
Many more pieces need to fall into place – specifically with regard to the Cuban government's immigration policy – for everything I'm talking about to actually happen. It is a distant dream right now, and as with everything worth doing, most improvement will have to come from within.
But the path to international experience that Sebrango talked to Jonah about is closer than it has been since the 1930s.
I think that makes Cuba a sleeping giant. So enjoy the 6-0 wins now, because I don't think we'll be seeing a ton of those in the future.