by IVES GALARCEP
There is no other way to describe the U.S. Men’s National Team’s start vs. Cuba on Saturday than a slow start.
Expected to dispose of Cuba with relative ease, the American started their Gold Cup match looking disjointed and vulnerable, and the Cubans took advantage, scoring the opening goal to shake up the U.S. and leave the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium silenced.
That Cuba goal provided a much-needed wake-up call for the Americans, who sharpened up before the end of the first half before going on to dominate the second half, rattling off four unanswered goals in a 4-1 thrashing of Cuba on Saturday.
A Landon Donovan penalty helped tie the match before halftime, while Joe Corona gave the U.S. the lead for good with a curling strike from the top of the box in the 57th minute. Chris Wondolowski came off the bench to score a pair of insurance goals, taking his goal total to six in three matches.
The victory improved the U.S. to 2-0 in Group C play, securing their place in the quarterfinals. They are now assured of playing in one of the quarterfinal matches in Baltimore on July 21st.
The United States got off to a rough start as the wholesale lineup changes made after their win vs. Belize left a team that took some time to find a rhythm. Cuba defended well early on and broke through with a goal of their own when Ariel Martinez used his speed to blow past Edgar Castillo on the right wing before sending a pass in to Jose Alfonso, who beat Oguchi Onyewu to the pass before slotting it home.
Cuba nearly found a second goal soon after, with Martinez beating Castillo yet again, but the U.S. defense avoided the threat.
The Americans equalized just before halftime when Donovan and Edgar Castillo combined on a sequence that sprang Castillo in the area. A Cuban defender stuck a foot out to bring down Castillo, leading to a penalty call. Donovan slotted the penalty home to equalize just before halftime.
The second half was a completely different story, with the U.S. dominating play throughout. Corona opened the floodgates in the 57th minute when he latched onto a loose ball near the penalty arc and curled a 19-yard shot past Odelin Molina to make the score 2-1.
Wondolowski did the rest, making a near-post run to finish off a perfect low cross from Kyle Beckerman in the 66th minute. He added his second in the 85th minute when Castillo chested a Jose Torres pass into his path, and Wondolowski finished cleanly for his Gold Cup-leading fifth goal of the tournament.
The second-half meltdown was eerily similar to Cuba’s Gold Cup opener against Costa Rica, which saw the Caribbean squad hold the Ticos to a scoreless draw in the first half before collapsing in an eventual 3-0 loss.
Things will get much tougher for the U.S. now as they face Costa Rica on Tuesday in East Hartford, Connecticut. The Ticos are unbeaten since the memorable World Cup qualifying loss to the United States on March 22nd in Commerce City, Colorado. The match that will be known forever as the ‘Snow Game’.
What did you think of the match? Which U.S. players impressed you the most? Like the U.S. team’s chances against Costa Rica?
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