The U.S. beat Cuba 2-0 in Havana on Friday with Jurgen Klinsmann’s side using their historic friendly as a valuable learning experience for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to come.
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Second half goals from Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green did the damage as the U.S. now head to RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. to face New Zealand in another friendly next Tuesday.
Here’s what we learned from the USA’s victory as Klinsmann’s boys continue to prepare for their World Cup qualifiers next month.
GREEN TAKES HIS CHANCE
The one U.S. player who always looked dangerous whenever he got on the ball was Julian Green.
Green, 21, hadn’t been involved in any of the USMNT’s 10 games previous to this game in Cuba but he took his chance and proved to Klinsmann he can step up and be an option on the left flank.
Look, when we think of Green all of our minds flash back to him hooking home against Belgium in the Round of 16 loss at the 2014 World Cup. Since then he hasn’t scored again for the U.S., until now, and he totally deserved to get on the scoresheet as he tapped home Wondolowski’s cutback.
Green first had to deal with first being the new messiah of U.S. soccer (magnified by the fact that Landon Donovan’s international career was ended in part due to his arrival) and then being cast aside ruthlessly. When he excelled as a central striker this summer and scored a hat trick for Bayern Munich in a preseason win against Inter Milan in Charlotte, NC, many though he’d get much more of a look-in for the German giants. That hasn’t been the case so far this season under Carlo Ancelotti and after this promising display it is clear that Green needs to get a loan move away from Bayern in January to kick-start his career and stay among the reckoning for the U.S. national team.
The German-American forward did his chances no harm at all in a tough environment in Havana.
FIELD CONDITIONS A LEVELER
Calling it a tough environment is too kind. The pitch in Havana was horrendous. Let’s play it straight. Often a pass would see the ball bounce two or three times, at least, before reaching an opponent.
It was bad and a real leveler between a U.S. ranked 22nd in the world and a Cuban outfit ranked 139th.
With the U.S. players looking more worried about picking up an injury than trying to possess the ball for most of the game — Christian Pulisic was targeted with hefty challenges and his first touch was often off as he was correctly hauled off at half time to avoid any injuries — the message from Klinsmann in the first half seemed to be to pump it long to Jozy Altidore and see what happens. You could hear Klinsmann bellowing from the sidelines to play it long and his defenders didn’t mind. There was no point playing it into central midfield for either Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan to get on the ball, their main strength, because there was no predicting which way the ball would bounce.
That said, the home side made the best of the conditions which leveled the playing field and they hit the post twice in the second half and threatened in the first half with a high line.
In the 34th minute the impressive Arichel Hernandez had a great chance on the break as Cuba played it out wide and he arrived on the edge of the box but saw his shot well-saved by 21-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. In the second half a counter saw Maykel Reyes stride forward and drive a shot in at the near post which hit the post and rebounded out and not long after Cuba hit the other post as Roberney Caballero arrived at the back post and headed against the upright.
Cuba gave the U.S. a few scares but in truth the USMNT were just pleased to leave the pitch without any scary injuries. This will have been an eye-opener for some of the younger players in Klinsmann’s team as to just how testing conditions in CONCACAF could be. The state of the pitch and a moment of sheer lunacy from the officials summed up how treacherous of an encounter it was for the U.S. Somehow the ref didn’t spot Steven Birnbaum getting scissor kicked in the head late on as Jurgen Klinsmann dropped the F-bomb (picked up clearly on the TV mics) as blood gushed out of Birnbaum’s head. Peak CONCACAF.
DON’T FORGET THESE GUYS
Wondolowski jumped off the bench at half time and did what he does best: score goals.
The San Jose Earthquake captain, 33, has now scored at least 10 goals in each of his last seven Major League Soccer seasons and Wondo chipped in with a goal and an assist to prove he’s not done yet. With Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood (he was off target in the first half in the first and second half) and Jozy Altidore mainstays up front and the likes of Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola emerging, Wondo is often the forgotten man. Yes, we all know he missed a good chance against Belgium in the World Cup but he knows how to sniff out a goal and he now has 11 in 35 appearances for the U.S. Wondo can still do a job through World Cup qualifying.
Elsewhere Horvath staked his claim in goal with an assured display and with Tim Howard doing well for Colorado in MLS but no longer first-choice for the USMNT and Brad Guzan not a regular at Middlesbrough, the Molde youngster may just have moved himself up the pecking order. Apart from that, bit-part players didn’t get too long to prove their worth but we will likely see much more from them against New Zealand with youngsters Lynden Gooch, Arriola and Morris all likely to get significant minutes.