The United States weren't good in the opening 40 minutes of their Gold Cup encounter with Cuba, but their turnaround was swift and spectacular. Cuba struck first with a surprisingly pretty goal, but Edgar Castillo won a penalty at the end of the first half to send the teams into the break level. Jurgen Klinsmann used up his substitutions early in the second half and they worked to perfection, with Chris Wondolowski scoring twice in a 4-1 USMNT win.
Klinsmann made multiple changes to his lineup, with the surface at Rio Tinto stadium and level of opposition playing a part in his decisions. Recently injured players Brek Shea, Oguchi Onyewu and Stuart Holden did not start against Belize, with Portland's artificial turf likely a factor in that decision, but they all started on Saturday. Changes were made at other positions, with Klinsmann opting to take a look at Herculez Gomez and Tony Beltran.
Giveaways were the theme of the first half for the USMNT. While Holden played well in his first start from 2010, he slowed down as the half went on and he regularly opted for the safest passing option instead of taking risks. On the occasions that Shea and Beltran attempted to play direct, penetrative passes, they turned the ball over more often than not.
Cuba looked good on the counter throughout the first half and eventually put the United States to the sword, scoring a brilliant goal in the 36th minute. Ariel Martinez set up the goal with a brilliant run down the left flank, capped off by a move on the endline that helped him past Castillo, giving him space to cross. Jose Ciprian made the perfect run off the ball to lose Onyewu and get between the towering defender and his partner, Michael Orozco-Fiscal, to get on the end of Martinez's cross and blast a gorgeous finish past Nick Rimando.
Shortly before the referee was set to blow the whistle to end the first half, Yenier Márquez committed a silly foul on Castillo, tripping him on the edge of the penalty area. Landon Donovan took the spot kick as usual and sent Odelin Molina the wrong way on his equalizing goal.
Jose Torres entered the game at the break, with Shea departing after he picked up a knock from a hard tackle at the end of the first half. He would be the first of three substitutes to enter the game for the U.S. before the hour mark in the match.
The United States looked a bit sluggish until the 57th minute, when Joe Corona sparked them to life with a brilliant goal out of absolutely nowhere. Cuba failed to close down Corona on the edge of the penalty area and he took advantage of the time and space he had by stepping into a shot. His effort was a brilliant one, blasted over the outstretched arm of Molina and into the top corner to give the USMNT a 2-1 lead.
Immediately after the goal, Klinsmann introduced Wondolowski into the game for the ineffective Herculez Gomez and Mikkel Diskerud in favor of Holden, who wasn't expected to play more than 60 minutes in his first start. Between Diskerud's assertiveness on the ball in the center of midfield and Wondolowski's runs off the ball, the U.S. started to look much more threatening immediately and were dominant in the final 30 minutes of the match.
Wondolowski, who scored a hat trick against Belize, only needed nine minutes to notch his first goal against Cuba. Kyle Beckerman set him up with a ball from the left flank into the penalty area that curled back towards the penalty spot and Wondolowski was perfectly positioned to punch the ball into the back of the net, extending the U.S. lead. He struck again in the 85th minute to record his sixth goal in three matches, assisted by Edgar Castillo on that occasion.
The comfortable win puts the U.S. on the top of Group C on six points and guarantees that they will participate in the quarterfinals.
- Wondo is awesome. His finishing is great, yes, but it's his movement that really makes him effective. His runs off the ball are fantastic. They're much better than Gomez's or Altidore's. Guatemala, Belize and Cuba are not strong opponents, but he looks like he should have a bench spot on the senior team right now. He's looked so confident since breaking his duck for the USMNT.
- Gomez probably can't wait to get to Tijuana and prove he belongs in this team. He's definitely fallen off a bit.
- It was awesome to see Holden out there, but it's obvious that this is just a step in his recovery and he's not quite all the way back. Hopefully his experience in the Gold Cup allows him to win a regular place for Bolton this season, but he's still a few months worth of games away from looking like Stu again.
- Diskerud was fantastic. Again. His composure on the ball and decision making is excellent. He knows when to play the safe ball and when to take a risk. And even when he plays the safe ball, it was after he looked for an aggressive option. His eyes are always forward.
- Castillo had a weird game. His defending on the Cuba goal was inexcusably bad, but he set up two goals. He probably shouldn't be more than a substitute option for the first team, but he's looking useful, at least.
- Onyewu on the other hand ... ouch. Hopefully dude can get a job with an MLS club, have a brilliant 10 months and find his second wind, but he looks done.
- Beltran's giveaways were really hard to watch. It's not too concerning given that he's our 5th string right back, but it was a wake-up call for anyone who thinks he's challenging Timothy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo for a roster spot. He's not good enough at the moment.
- Joey Beers has played three straight really weird up and down games with flashes of brilliance and moments where you wonder if he's good enough to be a senior international at a high level. I've watched him play dozens of times for the US and Tijuana and I still have no idea what to think of him.