The 2015 Gold Cup is about to begin! Well, for the United States it is. It was expected that the Americans would advance to the knockout rounds of this competition. In fact, if they hadn't, a hole might have been ripped in the space-time continuum and we'd all cease to exist. Okay, maybe not that drastic but it would've been a disaster of epic proportions.
On the opposite side of things we have Cuba who shocked everyone by making it to the quarterfinals. Between them losing players and getting smashed by Mexico and T&T, their own fans probably counted them out. But here they are in the Gold Cup quarterfinals about to play the USA.
In reality this game should be a cake walk for the U.S., but sports are a crazy thing. Buster Douglas didn't have a chance against Mike Tyson, the Soviets were supposed to crush the USA in 1980, and the Little Giants were massive underdogs to Ed O'Neill's Cowboys. Many of Goliath's have fallen over the years. This is what the USMNT need to do on Saturday to avoid being added to this list:
Don't underestimate them
Are the U.S. more talented? Of course. But, Cuba have athletes and pace. Having pace in soccer is like having a puncher's chance in boxing. You always have the ability to shock teams on the counter. One thing we've learned about the USMNT during this tournament is that they are vulnerable on the break. If the Americans come out and think they're going to spread passes around the pitch at their own leisure and pour on the goals, they could be in for a world of hurt.
To avoid a major letdown Klinsmann needs to have his side firing on all cylinders from the opening whistle. If they take the game to Cuba and are completely focused without taking the game for granted, then we could possibly see a lopsided scoreline.
The Beas is back
All Gold Cup long the USMNT back line has been a disaster. Whether it's been Timothy Chandler's awful passing or Ventura Alvarado getting manhandled by attackers. It has been depressing to see a USA defense look so disorganized.
Klinsmann noticed this concerning trend and decided to call on the tried and tested DaMarcus Beasley as a defensive reinforcement. The 33-year-old converted left back is as steady as they come. He performed admirably on soccer's biggest possible stage last summer and now he's being called on to add a calming influence onto the team.
A betting man would probably predict a shift to right back for Fabian Johnson and for the veteran Beasley to slot in at the left back position. However, with Klinsmann at the helm, trying to predict a lineup is pretty much a lottery.
Hold up, wait a minute
With Jozy Altidore getting the ax, the U.S. has to find someone to hold up the ball. Gyasi Zardes was asked to do it against Panama and failed miserably. Aron Johannsson has seen very little success in the past of trying to hold up possession for his teammates as well. It's possible that Clint Dempsey will once again be asked to play as the target striker much like he was at the World Cup. Here's to hoping that game plan goes a little better this time around.
Possession, possession, possession
Dear Midfield, please stop missing the easiest passes imaginable and losing the team possession. Signed, USMNT fans.
Against Panama the build up play was slightly improved thanks to the calming influence of Alejandro Bedoya. There is still room for major improvement in this department. Kyle Beckerman's defensive efforts are undeniable, but his knack for missing open 5-yard passes make everyone want to rip their own hair out. Beckerman, Bedoya, and Michael Bradley have to be the ones to calm the game down and keep possession for the team.
Then there's the remaining midfield spot that we will likely see Zardes push back into. His inability to play centrally was exploited on Monday, but he adds a much needed dynamic dimension on the flank. As long as he has space to collect the ball without much pressure he can be an asset to the team.
Here's the lineup I'd like to see against Cuba:
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