CUBA vs. USA
Friday, Oct. 7 | 3 pm ET | Estadio Pedro Marrero, Havana, Cuba
TV: ESPN2, UniMás
It’s been a long time since much of anything friendly happened between the United States and Cuba. It’s been even longer since the two countries — separated by 90 miles of water and opposing political ideologies — played an international soccer friendly.
That’s all about to change. On Friday, the US national team will visit Havana for the first exhibition match on Cuban soil since 1947 — and only the second friendly ever between the two. (The Yanks did play in Havana in 2008, earning a 1-0 victory, but that match was a qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.)
US coach Jurgen Klinsmann is taking a veteran squad south to mark the historic occasion, one position excepted. Klinsmann is leaving his two top goalkeepers, Brad Guzan and the Colorado Rapids’ Tim Howard, at home and going with a trio of hopefuls as the US — who enter the Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in November — look to the future.
The US hold a commanding 9-1-1 record against the Cubans. That one loss, by a 5-2 margin, came in that 1947 friendly in Havana, which also was the first meeting between the two nations. The second meeting, in a 1949 qualifying match for the 1950 World Cup, ended in a 1-1 draw.
Since then, the United States have run off nine straight victories in the series, most recently a 6-0 rout in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Over those nine matches, the Yanks have outscored Los Leones del Caribe by a cumulative 31-5 margin.
Futbol in a beisbol land
There’s little dispute that the diamond and not the pitch reigns supreme in Cuba, but the island nation has known some soccer success over the years.
Cuba were the first Caribbean side to play in a World Cup, in 1938 (although that was by default, as all but two teams from the Americas withdrew when the tournament was played in France). Still, Cuba acquitted themselves well in the early going, drawing Romania 3-3 and then beating them 2-1 in a replay to reach the quarterfinals. They lost that match 8-0 to Sweden and haven’t been back to a World Cup since.
Cuba have seen an upward trend in recent years, though, winning the 2012 Caribbean Cup and reaching the Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2013 and 2015 despite the defections of four players during the 2015 tournament.
Who starts up top for USMNT?
With Seattle’s Clint Dempsey shut down for the remainder of the MLS season due to an irregular heartbeat that kept him out of the United States’ last two World Cup qualifiers, Klinsmann can’t count on the veteran striker for November’s Hex matches against Mexico and at Costa Rica. That makes the October friendlies key for settling on a forward combination ahead of those qualifiers.
Bobby Wood and Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore were the preferred pair in the most recent qualifiers, combining for four goals as the United States cruised to two victories by a combined 10-0 margin — but Seattle rookie Jordan Morris has come on strong in MLS play and set a new record for US-born rookies with 12 goals. Will that be enough to get him a spot in the XI on Friday?
Just hoping to show well
Cuba are tuning up against their own Under-20 side in the run-up to the US match, winning the first 1-0 on a goal by Yaisniel Napoles.
According to reports in Cuban media, coach Raúl Mederos is using these matches to experiment with his lineup — using Arichell Hernandez as a false 9 and trying out Maykel Reyes on the wing — his position with Mexican club Cruz Azul Hidalgo.
“More than the result,” Mederos told Cuban newspaper Granma, “we hope to play a great game so that Cuban fans come away satisfied with the effort of our players on the pitch.”
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
DEFENDERS (7): Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin),Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union/withdrawn with injury), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Danny Williams (Reading)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)
Cuba (26-man provisional roster)
GOALKEEPERS (4): Sandy Sánchez (LTU), Diosvelis Guerra (ART), Delvis Lumpuy (VCL), Geandri Megret (GTM)
DEFENDERS (10): Daniel Alarcó (LHA), Dayron Blanco (LTU), Yaisniel Nápoles (CMG), Carlos Domingo Francisco (SCU), David Urgelles (GTM), Yasmani López (CAV), Erick Rizo (SCU), Yosel Piedra (VCL), Eugenio Palmero (SSP), Andy Baquero (LHA)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Daniel Luis Sáez (LHA), Alberto Gómez (GTM), Roberto Peraza (LHA), Arichell Hernández (VCL), Eddy Sanamé (LHA), Osmany Capote (VCL), Roberney Caballero (VCL)
FORWARDS (5): Duxney Espinosa (CMG), Eddy Gelkis Olivares (SCU), Maykel Reyes (Cruz Azul Hidalgo/Mexico), Yoelvis González (VCL), Yasnai Rivero (LHA)
Steve Brisendine, MLS Soccer
October 3, 2016