SANDY — Less than a month after a World Cup qualifying victory in Utah, the U.S. men's national team is back — definitely a rare occasion.
The Yanks kick off a CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader at Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Cuba. It's only the third time in the past five years the United States has played in the same stadium in the same calendar year.
When he addressed the media at Friday’s press conference, coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, “Happy to be back in Salt Lake a couple weeks later after our World Cup qualifier here. We’re looking forward to a great crowd tomorrow night and obviously another hurdle to take in the group stage,” he said.
The United States opened the Gold Cup with a 6-1 thrashing of Belize in Portland on Tuesday, and it continues group play against little known Cuba at Rio Tinto.
Klinsmann said all the pressure is on the United States to get max points.
“It demands a lot of focus from these guys. It demands a high tempo from the beginning 'cause there are very high temperatures here,” he said.
As many as three Real Salt Lake players could feature in the match, as Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran are all part of the 23-man U.S. squad for the Gold Cup.
The second match at Rio Tinto Stadium will also feature an RSL player as Alvaro Saborio’s Costa Rican squad takes on Belize at 4 p.m.
Both the United States and Costa Rica are expected to win easily, setting up a group showdown next Tuesday in Hartford, Conn., between the two. The United States’ all-time record in the group phase of Gold Cups is 26-1-2.
At Friday’s press conference, Klinsmann said there would definitely be some changes to the starting lineup he employed against Belize — which included Beckerman and Rimando — but not too many.
Chris Wondolowski certainly hopes he’s back in the lineup. The San Jose Earthquakes striker netted a hat trick in Portland, on assists from Beckerman and Michael Parkhurst.
“This whole camp you’re trying to make a statement. Anytime you get an opportunity to wear these colors and show what you have it’s a huge opportunity, and I just try to make the most of it,” said Wondolowski.
The name on Wondolowski’s jersey was misspelled with an extra “w” against Belize and he joked that he might keep it spelled that way considering how successful he was.
Landon Donovan contributed a goal and assist in his first stint back with the U.S. national team since his multi-month sabbatical from soccer early in 2013. He was left off the U.S. roster for last month’s qualifiers, and he said he’s in the same position as everyone else at camp.
“I think all the guys here view it as an opportunity to further their national team careers,” said Donovan. “Whenever you have a chance to play for your national team it’s an opportunity.”
Ahead of the match, Klinsmann was very complimentary toward Cuba and was impressed with how it played in the 3-0 loss to Costa Rica in Portland on Tuesday, particularly the first half. Cuba kept a clean sheet through the first half, but eventually conceded in the 50th, 71st and 76th minutes.
Against Cuba, Klinsmann would love to see his team put the game away much earlier than Costa Rica.
“Our goal is three points and to be in a very, very good position for our last game before Costa Rica,” he said.