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USA vs. Cuba, CONCACAF Nations League group stage: What to watch for

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The greatest tournament in the world begins for the USMNT.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Mexico at USA Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally here. Tomorrow, the United States Men’s National Team will make its debut in the CONCACAF Nations League when they host Cuba at Audi Field in Washington, DC. For the USMNT, it’s a chance to start off a new tournament on the right foot against an opponent that is one of the weakest in CONCACAF. After a month of people dissecting a terrible September window where they lost to Mexico and drew Uruguay, the goal is to begin Nations League play by putting a huge number on the board. Will they energize the fanbase with a great performance?

Recent Form

USA

D (1-1) - Uruguay - Friendly

L (0-3) - Mexico - Friendly

L (0-1) - Mexico - Gold Cup Final

W (3-1) - Jamaica - Gold Cup Semifinals

W (1-0) - Curaçao - Gold Cup Quarterfinals

Cuba

L (0-1) - Canada - CONCACAF Nations League Group A

L (0-6) - Canada - CONCACAF Nations League Group A

L (0-7) - Canada - Gold Cup Group A

L (0-3) - Martinique - Gold Cup Group A

L (0-7) - Mexico - Gold Cup Group A

What to watch for

Can the defense keep a clean sheet? Cuba has not scored a goal in its last 5 matches, and the USMNT can’t let them break that drought tomorrow. This is a match where the defense has to have the single goal of not allowing anything in the net. Their marking needs to be much improved from last month, and this is the match to clean that up.

Execution in the attacking third. While Cuba has not scored a single goal in 5 matches, they’ve allowed 24 in that same timeframe. This match is set up for the USMNT to score a lot of goals, and that’s something they should expect to do. In order to do that, they need to work on executing inside the final third, something they haven’t done well in quite a while. Creating scoring chances should be pretty easy, and keeping possession in the attacking half of the field is something the USMNT should focus on having for most of the match. But it don’t mean a thing if they can’t finish. Their shots on goal should number in the double digits if they perform well, with a goal total that’s one to be proud of against an opponent that they should beat easily.

Build confidence. The USMNT has a confidence problem, and this is a match where they need to build it back up. It’s not just the players and the team as a whole that need a confidence boost, it’s the fans as well. The team needs to deliver a performance that shows everyone that they’ve put some of their issues of the past behind them and can put out an excellent performance.

Lineup Prediction

With Cuba being the first match before the USMNT travel to Toronto to take on Canada, it’s possible that head coach Gregg Berhalter goes with some guys that wouldn’t feature in his main starting XI from this roster. Still, Berhalter has routinely stated he wants some consistency from his lineups, when available, and maybe will rotate in a couple guys where he sees fit. With that in mind, here’s who Berhalter will likely name in his starting XI tomorrow:

Predicted Lineup USMNT vs. Cuba

In goal, Zack Steffen will get the start since he is the number one for Berhalter and has been performing well for Fortuna Düsseldorf. He’ll want him sharp and to get some confidence with a clean sheet. The back line will be Daniel Lovitz, Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Nick Lima. You could also see Miles Robinson get some time here, and Berhalter rests Tim Ream for Canada.

In the middle, Wil Trapp gets the nod ahead of Michael Bradley, who you would expect to play in front of his home Toronto FC crowd on Tuesday. Weston McKennie and Sebastian Lletget get the nod in the middle and will be counted on to move the ball and control possession in the midfield.

Up front, Paul Arriola gets the start in his home stadium, where he plays for D.C. United. Expect Tyler Boyd to be a substitute for him later in the match. Christian Pulisic will occupy the right wing, and Josh Sargent will get the start up top ahead of Gyasi Zardes. This could mean that Zardes will get the start against Canada, but Sargent will have a real chance here to score some goals.

Score Prediction

The USMNT are playing a team in Cuba that is outmatched in League A of Nations League play, but the USMNT needs to focus and get the job done. Expect them to do just that and do it in style. Call it a 5-0 victory for the USMNT, led by a Christian Pulisic hat trick.