Jürgen Klinsmann has claimed that the United States is “the team to beat” at the 2015 Gold Cup ahead of his side’s quarterfinal clash with Cuba in Baltimore on Saturday. The U.S., which won the trophy in 2013, finished top of Group A with seven points, but wasn’t always convincing in victories over Honduras and Haiti and a draw last time out against Panama. Klinsmann, though, is happy with where his team is at, particularly in regards to its competition for the Concacaf crown.
“I think we are definitely the team to beat in this tournament,” he said, via MLSSoccer.com. “It wasn’t perfect, the way we went through the group stage of this tournament, but still it was impressive how the players handled everything and how we finished off within two days to be already in the quarterfinals.
“And seeing all the other results of the other games, some of the ups and downs other teams have had, I think we were very consistent in what we’re doing. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but we were very consistent, very focused and that’s what we’re gonna do tomorrow night in order to get to [the semifinals in] Atlanta.”
Still, Klinsmann, who will be without John Brooks in the quarterfinal because of suspension, has taken the opportunity to make alterations to his squad ahead of the knockout stage. Out of the team has gone experienced striker Jozy Altidore, with Klinsmann citing his lack of sharpness after injury, as well as left-back Greg Garza and midfielder Alfredo Morales. Taking their place are LA Galaxy’s Alan Gordon, Joe Corona and veteran DaMarcus Beasley, who has come out of international retirement.
Corona was on the scoresheet the last time the U.S. met Cuba, when the Americans won 4-1 en route to taking the title in 2013. Despite that heavy defeat, Cuba went onto make the quarterfinals in that competition, and it has overcome similar adversity to do so once again in 2015. Indeed, the Caribbean nation could not have got its Gold Cup off to a much worse start than losing 6-0 to Mexico, when several players were unavailable.
While a flurry of visa problems have been resolved, the familiar story of defections from the squad has continued. Speaking ahead of the quarterfinal, coach Raul Gonzalez, himself held back by visa complications earlier in the competition, stated that he would have 19 players available for selection. After Aricheel Hernandez and Dario Suarez joined Keiler Garcia in leaving the camp, key forward Ariel Martínez has reportedly done likewise after the match with Guatemala on Wednesday. Gonzalez, though, was refusing to be downbeat.
“I think it's enough to play the game and to play the tournament,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
With Martínez in the team, Cuba overcame the defeat to Mexico and a 2-0 reversal to Trinidad and Tobago to win its decisive match with Guatemala, 1-0, and reach the last eight as one of the two best third-placed teams.
But Cuba’s record against the U.S. offers little room for optimism that it can reach the semifinals of the Gold Cup for the first time ever. The U.S. is 8-1-1 all-time against Cuba, winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 10-2. The winner at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday will take on either Jamaica or Haiti in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox, Univision