Despite the unwelcoming pouring rain as the U.S. Men's National Team entered Rio Tinto on Saturday, the men in red and white pulled off a Gold Cup group game victory verses Cuba, 4-1.
Although the U.S. squad was off defensively and offensively for most of the first half, the home team held Cuba to one first-half goal. By fending off the Cuban attack early on, the United States kept the game within reach.
Starting forward Landon Donovan made a crucial, game-tying penalty kick in the waning moments of the opening half, which served as a momentum builder for the U.S.
The United States offense took off in the second half, and all three substitutions provided a spark off the U.S. bench. Forward Chris Wondolowski, who subbed in for Hérculez Gómez in the 58th minute, continued his hot, goal-scoring streak as he proved again his rightful spot in red and white.
Here's the breakdown of the U.S. squad by position groups as we look closer at the successes and failures from Saturday.
Starters: Landon Donovan and Hérculez Gómez
Substitutes: Chris Wondolowski (58' replaces Gómez)
After shaking off the disappointment that sprung from starting Saturday's game on the bench, Chris Wondolowski followed coach Jurgen Klinsmann instructions.
Prior to the game Klinsmann told his player to keep his head up and save a couple goals for the second half. And thats exactly what Wondolowski did. Scoring in the 66th and 85th minutes, he came off the bench to help the U.S. pull away from Cuba.
As Wondolowski continued his national team hot-streak, Landon Donovan scored his second goal of the Gold Cup tournament. Both came off penalty kicks, and on Saturday Donovan's PK came at a critical time. With the first half coming to a close, a Cuban defender tripped up Edgar Castillo just inside the box to set up Donovan's penalty kick. The play was crucial to the game because Cuba carried the majority of the momentum for the opening 45 minutes.
Although the forward's play was a little sluggish early on, they more than made up for it in the second half.
Starters: Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Stuart Holden and Brek Shea
Substitutes: José Torres (45' replaces Shea) and Mix Diskerud (58' replaces Holden)
The midfield also had a strong showing against Cuba. Joe Carona and Kyle Beckerman played the full 90 minutes for the U.S. side, and deservedly so.
Carona was a main contributor to the United States offense throughout the game with several scoring chances and near assists. Corona finally found the back of the net for his first ever U.S. soccer goal in the 57th minute of play when a poor clearance by a Cuban defender dropped the ball at Corona's feet just outside the area. He one-timed it, beating the Cuban keeper Odelín Molina.
Kyle Beckerman, playing an international game in front of his home crowd at Rio Tinto, was a solid defensive midfielder and and facilitated several plays. On one of those occasions, he had a brilliant assist to Chris Wondolowski when he chipped the ball near post.
The two substitutions in the midfield were game-changers. Jose Torres and Mix Diskerud brought energy and intensity off the bench. These two substitutes contributed massively to the turnaround the United States poised in the second half. Diskerud had a spring in his step and cut the Cuban defense apart. Although he might be barely noticeable on a stat sheet, his energy put the defense on its heels.
Starters: Edgar Castillo, Tony Beltran, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Orozco
One risk taken by the U.S. back line is the potential to be caught on through balls. The United States defenders often like to step up, forming a tight offsides trap. This tactic worked extremely well for the U.S. on Saturday, though. On one occasion in the first half, three cuban players all made runs before the ball left their teammate's feet, which in turn led to a strong U.S. counter attack.
Oguchi Onyewu wore the captain's stripe for the home team on Saturday, and he proved to deserve the honor. Time after time he sacrificed his body to avoid giving up a run, a cross or a shot by the Cuban offense. He even went down hard, tweaking his knee, after refusing to give Cuba a shot inside the U.S. box midway through the second half.
The two outside backs, Edgar Castillo and Tony Beltran, took a good 30 minutes to really settle into the game. In the 36th minute, Castillo lost a run battle with Cuban midfielder Ariel Martinez, allowing him to turn the corner. Martinez then served up an assist to forward Jose Alfonso, who put Cuba on the scoreboard. Although this lapse in judgement hurt the U.S., Castillo's play immediately picked up following the goal.
Beltran played well in his first action in Gold Cup play and in front of his home crowd. In the first half, he gave away some cheap balls and made a few ill-advised passes. However, he managed to adjust to the game and finish strong. He made several important defensive stops for the U.S.
Starter: Nick Rimando
Nick Rimando was outstanding as always. He saw significant action in the first half, but was tested less often in the following 45 minutes of play.
The single goal scored against Rimando, by Jose Alfonso, was unstoppable from the dangerous positioning allowed by the U.S. defense. Rimando made a huge slide tackle in the 81st minute after Tony Beltran went down while defending in the box. This save preserved the 3-1 U.S. advantage, keeping a safe distance from Cuba. Rimando also had several key punch-outs and was smart when forced to play the ball with his feet.