US SoccerUS Soccer

Close, But No Cigar

As a coach, I'm really looking forward to this game, for the simple reason that Cuba is a team that comes to play.  In the first two games, our opponents really bunkered in, which made for games that weren't particularly enjoyable to watch.  Nonetheless, we were obviously pleased with the results.

Playing out of a 4-4-2 formation, Cuba is a quick, skillful side that likes to maintain possession through short combination play.  Anchoring the defense is 6'2" goalkeeper Odelin Molina.  He is an outstanding shot blocker and very aggressive coming off his line.  Molina has a wealth of experience, having played more than 50 times for the national team.

The backline looks to stay as high as possible, which is a positive for us because it allows our forwards space to run into behind the defense.  At times, they are disconnected and guilty of "ball-watching."  They also have a tendency to employ the offside trap at inopportune times. Lastly, their marking in the box hasn't been good in the matches we have seen.  We will look to take advantage of these inconsistencies, especially on set pieces.

As a team they don't have great size, but there are three or four players, notably 6'3" Janiel Marquez, who are dangerous on restarts and crosses.  We will have to be mindful of that when the situations arise.

The strength of the Cuban team lies in their attack.  They send a lot of numbers forward, creating chances by trying to get the ball wide and serving crosses.  Cuba boasts a trio of quality attackers, led by their number 10, Lester More.  He is a clinical finisher and very opportunistic, as displayed in scoring both of Cuba's goals in the 2-0 shutout against Canada.  Maikel Castaneda has excellent pace and the ability to get in behind defenses.  With the ball at his feet, Castaneda is adept at taking on defenders one v. one.  Cuba's attacking midfielder is Jorge Ramirez, a diminutive and hardworking player.  Despite his 5'2" size, Ramirez is a gifted passer who plays with high energy, and most of their attacks are generated through his efforts.

We expect that Cuba will be a highly motivated team on Saturday. They have never advanced beyond the group stage, and would like nothing better to unseat the defending champions on their home turf. It could be close, but definitely no cigar.