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A Surprisingly Familiar Foe

When the U.S. Men’s National team takes on Cuba in its second Group C match of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, it will actually be facing a surprisingly familiar foe. Saturday’s meeting will be the 10th between the two countries, with the MNT sporting a 7-1-1 record all-time dating back to 1947.

Overall, the USA has scored 28 goals against Cuba and surrendered 10. Eight of the games have been in official competition, including four in the Gold Cup. The teams faced off in four straight tournaments (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005), with the U.S. posting four wins and the first three by shutout.

The 2002 edition saw the introduction of Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley into the series, the U.S. winning 1-0 on a goal from Brian McBride. In the 2005 meeting, Cuba took the lead in the 18th minute before Clint Dempsey tied the score at 1-1 just before halftime. The score remained that way until Donovan struck a magnificent free kick three minutes later to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead, and then the goals kept coming in quick succession. In the 90th minute, Beasley pushed the lead to 3-1 firing home a low shot from just inside the box. In the second minute of stoppage time, Donovan made it 4-1 finishing off a neat sequence involving Dempsey and Beasley.

The 2008 meeting in Havana had added meaning, as it was not only a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier, but it was also the first time the U.S. had played in Cuba in 61 years. The match was the closest to date, as Dempsey’s 40th-minute strike combined with Tim Howard’s 88th-minute fingertip save was enough for the 1-0 U.S. victory. (Watch the behind the scenes from the historic trip:Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3)

The MNT restored its dominance in the past meeting between the two countries running away with a 6-1 win on Oct. 15, 2008 in Washington, D.C. Beasley netted a pair, while Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu got on the scoreboard. Jose Torres officially became tied to the United States National Team in that game when he entered as a reserve.

This year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup marks Cuba’s seventh appearance in the event. Cuba qualified for this year’s tournament after winning the Caribbean Cup in Antigua & Barbuda. Cuba capped off a strong tournament with a 1-0 overtime victory against Trinidad & Tobago on Dec. 16, 2012, when Marcel Hernandez scored the game-winner in the 113th minute.

Cuba’s best Gold Cup performance came 10 years ago when it advanced all the way to the quarterfinals of the 2003 tournament. There, Cuba met an on-form USA team that promptly eliminated Cuba with a commanding 5-0 victory thanks in large part to a Donovan four-goal outing. Only three other players in MNT have put in four in one game.

Cuba is led by goalkeeper Odelin Molina who has amazingly played for Cuba’s national team since 1996. Heading into the tournament, the ever-present 38-year-old has made 116 international appearances.

Molina along with defenders Yenier Marquez and Jorge Luis Clavelo play for Cuban first division team FC Villa Clara, a 13-time Campeonato Nacional de Futbol de Cuba champion.

Marquez is Cuba’s leading scorer on this Gold Cup roster with 12 career goals.

Cuba is coached by 41-year-old Walter Benitez who was named Cuba’s head coach in November of 2012. Just a month later, Benitez guided Cuba to the 2012 Caribbean Cup title.

Beasley who has scored three times against Cuba in his MNT career (his last multi-goal game was against Cuba in 2008) knows Cuba will present a tough challenge Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“They are very attack-minded, they have some skillful players and they’re athletic as well. They play pretty good football,” Beasley said. “We need to concentrate for 90 minutes and can’t have lapses on the field.”