The United States overcame an initial setback and a poor first-half display to eventually brush Cuba aside and move into the Gold Cup quarterfinals with a 4-1 win in Sandy, Utah. After an opening 6-1 win over Belize, a similarly comfortable 90 minutes was expected at the Rio Tinto stadium. But for long stretches it was far from easy going for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, especially when Jose Ciprian put Cuba in front after 36 minutes. The U.S. responded with a penalty converted by Landon Donovan right before half-time and then stepped up their intensity after the break and eventually ran out resounding winners courtesy of Joe Corona’s strike and brace from Chris Wondolowski.
The San Jose Earthquakes striker was again one of the biggest positives to come out of the match as the largely B roster looks to stake a claim for a place in next year’s World Cup. Coming off the bench, Wondolowski showcased his goal-scoring ability to add to the hat-trick he fired against Belize. Yet, when the U.S. meets Costa Rica in their final Group C match on Tuesday, Klinsmann will doubtless stress that they may not get away with their lackadaisical beginning against higher-quality opponents.
While the United States were dominating possession from the outset, their play lacked tempo and they struggled to break down a disciplined Cuba side. The best opportunities came when Donovan was inches away from getting on the end of an enticing low cross from Corona, while the same combination led to the Tijuana man heading just past the angle of post and bar.
Still, it appeared just a matter of time before the U.S. would break Cuba’s resilience. Instead, stunningly it was the underdogs that struck first. Ariel Pedro Martinez beat Edgar Castillo far too easily to reach the byline down the left and pulled the ball back for Ciprian who adjusted well to the ball being slightly behind him before smashing the ball past Nick Rimando.
Castillo will not have been happy with his culpability on the goal, but it was his ability going forward that helped to bring his side level in the second minute of first-half injury time. The Tijuana full-back played a clever give-and-go with Donovan and as he got a touch to the ball in the area just ahead of Jenier Marquez and the Cuban defender’s reckless challenge brought his opponent down for a clear penalty. Donovan duly stepped up and tucked the ball low into corner to score his third penalty in as many game since returning to the national side.
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The goal provided the perfect lift right before the break and the U.S. came out in the second-half with much greater purpose. They went close to going in front on more than one occasion early in the period from a series of set-pieces, the best chance falling to Michael Orozco whose header was well saved by Molina.
It would not take long for Klinsmann’s side to get the vital second goal. In the 57th minute, the ball broke kindly to Corona on the edge of the box and he made the most of his good fortune by sweeping the ball instantly into the far corner of the net past a helpless Molina to get his first U.S. goal.
Less than 10 minutes later it was 3-1. Wondolowski again showed his impressive striking instincts, as just a few minutes after coming on, he got ahead of his marker at the near post to stylishly volley Kyle Beckerman’s cross into the net. And Wondolowski enhanced his claim for a more regular berth in the side with six minutes remaining with a clinical finish after Castillo helped Jose Torres’s dug out pass toward him six yards out.