On late Friday afternoon, the United States Men's National Team earned an ugly, yet professional, 2-0 win vs. Cuba in Havana. The historic occasion marked the first visit for the U.S. to their estranged Caribbean rivals since 1947, as diplomatic relations between the two nations continue to thaw.
The game itself was played on a poorly maintained pitch that would generously be described as "bumpy." The field conditions clearly displeased Jürgen Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer officials, who may have anticipated a somewhat inferior surface, but even this surface fell short of expectations. What resulted was rather tentative, disjointed play that made it difficult to draw many useful conclusions.
Nonetheless, 90 minutes of soccer was played, and here's what we learned:
Julian Green's story isn't written yet
Expectations have always been high for Julian Green. That tends to happen with highly touted teenage American prospects, especially when they come connected to a SuperClub like Bayern Munich. Fair or not, a subset of USMNT supporters will forever link his rapid rise with the omission of Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster. Green's failure to establish himself at the first-team club level had many resigned to tossing him on the "USMNT bust" scrap heap.
Julian Green has other ideas. He was, perhaps, the only surprise in the starting lineup vs. Cuba. Green made his first start for the U.S. in over two years, the previous in a friendly vs. the Czech Republic on September 3, 2014. He hadn't even made an appearance since November 2014. What's changed? He's earned a regular spot on Bayern's game day roster, for one thing. While he hasn't made a Bundesliga appearance yet this season, Green has impressed new manager Carlo Ancelotti in preseason, highlighted by a hat trick in a high profile friendly vs. Inter.
And, oh by the way, he was also the best offensive player on the field for the United States vs. Cuba. Green was goal-dangerous throughout the game, finally breaking through in the 71st minute for his 2nd career USMNT goal. It was an important performance for the 21-year-old forward, who found a way to execute despite the difficult conditions. Green looked especially motivated to make this chance count, and that he did.
We've seen Klinsmann boost the fledgling club careers of other players by offering national team opportunities (Brooks, Wood come to mind.) Green may follow that path yet. He's back in a United States uniform, and based on Friday's performance, it won't be the last time.
Wondo: Still here, and still scoring goals
There was more than one redemption story to be told in this game.
Chris Wondolowski, forever the whipping boy for the infamous 2014 missed chance, made his own case for USMNT supporters' affections.
Maybe, like me, you groan audibly seeing his name on a Klinsmann roster. Hey, it's not personal; he seems like a genuinely great guy. Perhaps it's age bias. We're always eager to usher out the old and bring in the next young stud. Four-year cycles demand that mindset. It's always about the future.
But Wondo is here *now*. He's still here, and doing what he's done throughout his MLS career: he scores goals. Minnow opponent or not, the United States was in the latter stages of a scoreless game and needed a spark. Chris Wondolowski came off the bench to start the second half and provided just that. His 62nd minute goal, his 11th at the international level, put the U.S on top to stay. Nine minutes later, his perfect assist to set up a Julian Green tap-in would put the game on ice.
Hero for a day, and a statement that at age 33, he's got unsettled business in a United States jersey.
In less than 30 days, Klinsmann will name his roster for the first two rounds of the Hexagonal. You want to bet that Wondo's name won't be on it?
Horvath: Next in line to the GK Throne?
Speaking of looking to the future... let's talk about goalkeepers.
The incumbent duo at the top of the depth chart are not on this roster. Tim Howard has a pair of important MLS matches with Colorado scheduled in and around this international window. He's also 37 years old. Brad Guzan is now a backup at Middlesbrough. Jürgen Klinsmann recognizes the need to establish greater (and younger) depth at the position.
"I think it’s a perfect time to give an open window to three younger goalkeepers with William Yarbrough, Ethan Horvath and David Bingham," said Klinsmann." That’s why we decided to leave the two older guys out and give these three youngsters a chance to prove their point. That kind of opportunity is very rare."
21-year-old Horvath got the first opportunity with a start on Friday vs. Cuba, further entrenching himself as the current #3. Horvath, of course, was the third goalkeeper on this summer's Copa America roster. His standout play at Norway's Molde FK, particularly in last season's Europa League vs. several big clubs, earned him some senior team attention.
After posting a clean sheet and making several key saves, his position on the depth chart appears locked down. Perhaps the biggest save came in the 36th minute, with Horvath stopping a one-timed blast from the top of the box to keep the game scoreless. A lesser performance could have easily seen the hosts take a lead, and led to a very different second half playing out.
It may not be until well after the 2018 World Cup that the #1 GK job is truly up for grabs. Whenever that day comes, young Ethan Horvath is already pushing himself to the front of the line.