The United States Men’s National Team headed to the Caribbean island of Cuba to play in a historic game. Not since 1945 had the team gone there for a friendly and it was only the third visit to Cuba ever for the USMNT. The Yanks come home with a 2-0 win thanks to the contributions of San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski. This comes after relations between both countries opened up and set the stage for the game today.
The USMNT lined up in a 4-4-2 Diamond formation, with Ethan Horvath making his U.S. senior team debut in goal and a back four of DeAndre Yedlin on the right, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron as the center backs and Fabian Johnson on the left. In the midfield, Michael Bradley lined up in the center defensive midfielder role as the captain, with Sacha Kljestan in the number 10 role, Christian Pulisic to the left and Julian Green on the right. The two forwards up top were Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood.
The field was in rough condition but the full crowd made this an intriguing match-up. The game started slowly, with both teams getting a feel for each other. Then, in the fourth minute, Pulisic took the ball inside and tried a cross that was blocked by a Cuban player and prompted calls for a handball that were waved off by the referee.
At the 17th minute, action picked up when Wood took a shot that was deflected by the Cuban defense. About five minutes later, Green, displaying some fancy footwork, got into the box and let a shot rip that was again blocked by a defender.
Cuba finally got a shot on target in the 28th that was nicely stopped by Horvath. Then in the 35th, Horvath was tested again by a good shot but stopped it. That was it for the half. The USMNT did play with a high back line and got Cuba to fall into the offside trap multiple times. The game was chippy and hard-fought, although the U.S. squad enjoyed most of the possession in the surprisingly scoreless first half.
Jurgen Klinsmann made multiple subs after the break, with Wondolowski, Steve Birnbaum, and Tim Chandler coming on for Pulisic, Brooks, and Yedlin. Almost right away the U.S. sent a good cross into the box met with a header by Bobby Wood that was blocked out for a corner.
In the 57th, a 3-on-2 attack for the U.S. was wasted when Green relayed a pass to Altidore, who couldn't control it and lost the opportunity. Cuba then came roaring on the counter, with a nice shot that Horvath stopped. In the 60th came more subs, with Jordan Morris coming on for Wood. Two minutes later, The U.S. finally broke the deadlock.
Green with some nice footwork had a shot on goal stopped by the goalkeeper, but Wondolowski was there to tap in the rebound for the Yanks. It was Wondolowski’s 11th international goal.
Cuba responded with two shots in the 65th, one of which hit the post, scaring the defense. The next breakthrough came in the 71st, when Wondolowski made a nice cross that Green finished off for the second goal and his second ever for the senior team.
Cuba’s last good chance came on a 2-on-1 that ended with a shot over the goal. Shortly before that play there was a scary scene, when Birnbaum was caught in the head, opening a big gash. At the end of the game he looked to be all right. Hopefully this does not lead to a bigger concern since Birnbaum has a history of concussions with D.C. United. The game ended with the USMNT dominating possession with 60 percent and led with eight shots on target to Cuba’s three.
The USMNT played capably but was sloppy at times. The opposition was not the best but the Americans pulled out a win and gave some minutes to young players, which was the goal. There were also no major injuries, which is a plus, and if I had to pick a man of the match it would be the debutant, Ethan Horvath, who stopped all three shots that came his way. Now the U.S. will look forward to New Zealand on Tuesday in Washington D.C. at RFK Stadium, where much the same can be said — it’s a chance for younger players to play and to avoid injuries.