Cuban Roster Challenges
As has become relatively common place for Cuban sides when coming to the U.S., the team enters Saturday’s match missing several players. Goalkeeper Aral Arguellez, midfielders Arichel Hernandez and Dario Suarez as well as forward Keiler Garcia have all departed the teams at different times during the tournament. As a result, Cuba has only 18 players available for Saturday’s quarterfinal, the most experienced of which is 36-year-old defender/midfielder Yenier Marquez, Cuba’s all-time appearance leader with 126 caps.
Despite Cuba being shorthanded, they still overcame a favored Guatemala side to advance to the quarterfinals for the second straight Gold Cup. With a potential U.S. path to the final being through Cuba and the winner of the Jamaica / Haiti match, Bradley was asked if CONCACAF’s Caribbean nations were on a rise in recent years.
“Things go in cycles,” Bradley said. “Teams go in cycles in some ways. Does the fact that there are a number of teams now that are in good moments now make things more difficult? Yeah, probably. This idea that Caribbean teams are good now and they weren’t four years ago, six years ago, eight years ago -- I don’t buy that. I was on the field in a lot of those games and trust me, they weren’t cake walks.”
Under Klinsmann, the MNT is 7-1-0 against Caribbean sides.
Plan vs. Cuba
Cuba has probably been the most mixed bag of the 2015 Gold Cup. Missing a number of players due to visa issues, the side was blown out 6-0 by Mexico in their tournament opener before losing 2-0 to Trinidad & Tobago in their second match. There was little hope held they’d get a result against Guatemala in the group finale, but the team’s defensive style paid off as they held Los Chapines scoreless before Maikel Reyes’ 72nd minute goal held up to put the team through.
The U.S. has outscored the island nation 19-2 in its last four matches, but has surrendered the first goal in two of those games, including the last meeting in the 2013 Gold Cup. On Friday, Klinsmann said that after a tight group stage and extra days to recover over the past few days, he and his staff have emphasized the team’s need to put its stamp on the game early.
“We need to make sure that from the first second on, we raise the bar and create a high tempo rhythm and creating chances so we can score. Things can happen, two years ago we go a goal down and things suddenly got difficult.
U.S. ‘keeper Brad Guzan agreed.
“First and foremost we need to put them under a bit of pressure,” said the first-choice net minder. “We need to make sure our intensity, our pressure is there. We need to make sure we’re on the front foot. The start to the game will be important, we want to try and make sure we don’t give them any room to breathe, any space to ply to run at us or any of that sort of thing.”
Referring to their team’s absences, Klinsmann continued, “A lot of what they went through is very emotional. When you go through those emotional roller coasters, you never know what the ending will be. The message to our players is to be spot on from the first second and hopefully create chances and get an early goal that will make things a lot easier.”
Bradley on the Difficulty of the Gold Cup
With only two days between matches in the group stage, the U.S. team has had the chance to get a little more rest the past week in Baltimore as they prepared for Saturday’s quarterfinal against Cuba. Asked about the difficulty of the tournament as whole on Friday, U.S. captain Michael Bradley was open about the challenges that all 12 teams have faced.
“Between the travel, the short turn around between games, grass being laid over field turf, the weather, it’s a huge challenge. That’s absolutely no excuse, because it’s the same for everybody. It’s not like it’s any different for us than the other teams, again I want to be clear that’s no excuse, that’s not me complaining – that’s just reality.”
The conditions combined with the fact that only three of the 18 group matches were decided by more than a goal has put the entire tournament field on notice that nothing will be easy in the 2015 Gold Cup.
“You see that every game is a dog fight, every game is close and hard and that’s exactly what we expected,” Bradley continued. “We expect that it becomes even more like that. Everything you’ve done up until this point means nothing and everything you’ll do in the next week means everything. We’re very focused and very excited to step on the field tomorrow in a quarterfinal, expect a great crowd and we’ll be ready to do anything in any way to get to a semifinal.”
John Brooks Suspended
The U.S. will be without defender John Brooks after the starting center back picked up his second yellow card of the tournament in the Group A finale against Panama on Monday and is suspended for one match. Klinsmann indicated after that match he was happy that the team was able to get minutes out of all of its field players in the group stage, saying he’d be confident in either Omar Gonzalez or Tim Ream as replacements in the quarterfinal.
Predictably though, Klinsmann wouldn’t tip his hand Friday on who would get the nod next to Ventura Alvarado against Cuba, saying, “We’ll see tomorrow night how we put the pieces together on the backline.”
History against Cuba
With their only defeat coming in a 5-2 loss on July 20, 1947, the U.S. is 8-1-1 all-time against Cuba and ride an eight-match winning streak into Saturday night’s game. Five players on the current roster have scored goals against Cuba, with DaMarcus Beasley tallying three, Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski bagging two each and Joe Corona also scoring.
In Gold Cup play, the U.S. is a perfect 5-0-0 against the Caribbean nation.