"It was a good first game for us," U.S. coach Clive Charles said. "We had to work hard, but in the end we produced a result that we needed."
The United States went ahead in the 57th minute when midfielder Brian Winters played a diagonal ball into the box. Starting U.S. forward Taylor Twellman made a beautiful dummy run, dragging two Cuban defenders with him, allowing the ball to find Pete Vagenas alone 10 yards from the goalmouth. Vagenas coolly slotted the ball to the right of a diving Castro Horta. It ended a scoreless drought of 327 minutes, dating back to the 1991 Pan Am Games, a tournament the U.S. won.
The goal was one of the few scoring opportunities that the teams produced in what was a scrappy game in the midfield that not only produced 32 fouls, but also seven cautions.
Cuba dominated the final 15 minutes, nearly scoring the equalizer on three occasions. United States' defender Steve Shak caught Livan Perez from behind after Perez broke down the U.S. defense and made his way into the box unmarked. Shak's well-timed tackle momentarily staved off the Cuban attack.
But two minutes into injury time Martinez nearly knotted the game up, cracking a shot from 25 yards that forced U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to make a diving save to his right. It was one of Howard's four saves on the day.
"This Cuba team was very fast, tactically they were very strong," Charles said. "It was one of the best organized Cuban teams I've seen. I was impressed with them and very happy to come out with a win."
Although the United States dominated possession in the early-going, they nearly went down in the seventh minute when Howard was whistled for taking too much time with the ball. But the resulting Cuban free kick from 16 yards out flew well over the net.
The U.S. nearly went ahead four minutes later when a Dan Califf header was saved on the line by a sprawling Horta. The save was one of two in the game for Horta.
Howard made another error in the 37th minute that nearly proved costly again. His attempted clear found Cuban midfielder Rey Martinez, but Martinez's attempted lob was high.
The United States had an opportunity to put the game away when DaMarcus Beasley found himself alone 10 yards out. But his ensuing shot hit the left post and Twellman's follow went wide.
The United States next plays Honduras on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex. The match will be Honduras' first of the 1999 Pan American Games.