Cuba is likely to pose a little more threat today than little Belize could to the United States’ stab at dominance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage – but only a little bit more.
There are definitely tougher tasks ahead in the three-week tournament to crown a regional champion in North and Central America and the Caribbean, they are just slow to arrive for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men, who made quick work of its first match, a 6-1 win in Portland.
The team relocated south to Salt Lake City for today’s contest against Cuba, which had its own troubles in a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica to open the Gold Cup.
It did take the Ticos of Costa Rica 51 minutes to break through on Tuesday, finally bettering the Cuban back line and beating Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina, who looked suspect on more than one of the goals.
”We got a little bit disorganized in the second half, which cost us the result,” Cuban manager Walter Benitez said.
More of the same will surely cost Cuba goals Saturday when the teams line up at Rio Tinto Stadium just outside of Salt Lake City. (Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel.) That’s because fate has intervened to stockpile the U.S. lineup with two or three attackers who might not be around otherwise.
Klinsmann has a “B” team for this tournament, giving some of the top men in the U.S. player pool a few weeks off before they get back into league play in Europe. More accurately, he “mostly” has a “B” team.
Turns out, the national team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan, needed re-introduction into the national team after his well-documented time away from pro soccer. So he was around to strike twice in a 6-0 rout of Guatemala eight days ago, and then to chip in a goal and two assists in an equally dominant 6-1 win over Belize to open the Americans’ Gold Cup account
With the two assists, Donovan became the first national team man record 50 career goals and 50 assists. Not bad for a “B” team type, eh?
Then there’s Stuart Holden, who would definitely be among the first 16-18 players in the U.S. pool but for those career-threatening injuries that stripped away almost two years from the versatile midfielder. The Gold Cup is also Holden’s re-introduction.
Even if the opposition is decidedly of the lightweight variety, Holden’s first two extensive runs in the national team shirt have been wonderfully encouraging for all.
“For me now it’s not a matter of being back, it’s a matter of getting better than that,” Holden said after playing 45 minutes against Belize. “I want to be better than I was before. I want to reach new heights that I didn’t before my injury. In terms of being back, that word is overplayed. I’m there. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and taking it to the next level.”
Brek Shea has also appeared threatening along the U.S. left side in the matches of the last eight days. He was a first-choice type when Klinsmann took the U.S. post almost two years ago, but lost his way amid a string of injuries and a move to Stoke City that has yet to pay dividends.
Klinsmann has personnel choices, like whether to bring Oguchi Onyewu back into the central defense. And whether to get Herculez Gomez back into the starting lineup, which could come at the expense of Chris Wondolowski, who had three goals in a hige night in Portland against Belize.
With a tougher match coming up against Costa Rica, Klinsmann also has the option of using the match to rest some of the starters and introduce some younger types, like MLS scoring sensation Jack McInerney, who is in his first camp with the senior national team.
“The decisions for Gooch (Onyewu) and Herc (Gomez) were based on the fact that they’ve had knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf field,” Klinsmann said in explaining some of Tuesday’s lineup choices. “The same thing with Stuart Holden was that if we need you, you’ll come off the bench when things open up a little bit. There are always situations when it’s not that kind of style in the game and others have the opportunity. Wondo realizes every minute he’s on the field that he has an opportunity, and he better take it, and he did very well.”