The United States men’s national team will play its first friendly in Cuba in 69 years on Friday. The match at Havana’s Estadio Pedro Marrero comes at a time of improved relations between the countries and with the U.S. team seeking preparation ahead of the start of the final round of World Cup qualifying next month.
The only time the U.S. has played in Cuba since 1947 was a World Cup qualifier eight years ago and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has encouraged his players to make the most of the trip, with some taking part in a school class.
“We’re very excited about this trip to Cuba because it’s going to be a wonderful experience for all of us, hopefully also for the people there to have the opportunity to see our team play in their spot,” Klinsmann said. “We brought in a couple of players who were on the outside, some younger ones and this will give us a really good opportunity to have a closer look at those players.”
On the pitch, the match also carries ample significance. On Nov. 11, the U.S. will face a blockbuster first game of the “Hexagonal,” with foes Mexico visiting Columbus, Ohio, before Klinsmann’s side travel to take on Costa Rica five days later.
And the game in Havana will present a chance for a number of fringe players to put themselves in Klinsmann’s thoughts for the contest with Mexico. That is particularly true for the three goalkeepers selected.
Veteran duo Tim Howard and Brad Guzan have been left off of the roster, with Klinsmann citing Howard’s end-of-season commitments at the Colorado Rapids and Guzan’s lack of playing time at Premier League club Middlesbrough. Instead, he has called up three younger goalkeepers in the San Jose Earthquake’s David Bingham, Ethan Horvath of Norwegian side Molde and William Yarbrough from Mexican outfit Leon.
With Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya also missing, there will be opportunities, too, in the attack. There is a first call-up for Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch, along with a return to the squad of Reading’s Danny Williams.
And Klinsmann has challenged those players to grab their chance in the same way that Sacha Kljestan did last month on his return after a more-than-two-year absence.
“We want to see them taking the initiative,” he said. “We want them to come in here and make a very strong impression. I think a good example is Sacha Kljestan. In the last two World Cup qualifying games we told Sasha, ‘Listen, this is your opportunity, but you’ve got to take it.’ You’ve got to come in and make an impression and he did that in both games. A similar message to Danny Williams and other players. The door is always open.”
The U.S. secured a narrow 1-0 win on its visit to Havana in 2008 but ran out emphatic 6-0 winners over Cuba when the sides met in last year’s Gold Cup. Cuba has long since been eliminated from qualification for the 2018 World Cup after a first-round defeat to Curaçao.
Kickoff Time: 4 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN2, UniMás
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