International friendly preview: Cuba v USMNT

Take a deep breath. Relax. For the first time in a long time, it seems, the US has a game with no pressure. There’s no worries about qualification for the next round, or accumulating points. Instead, the US gets time to gel ahead of more important games in November, with two friendlies against decidedly smaller teams. The first comes Friday afternoon, and will be a history-making game, in that it is just the third-ever game, and the first international friendly in nearly 70 years, that the US has played on Cuban soil. The first meeting was in 1947, and marked the only time (in 11 meetings) that Cuba was the victor. The US will obviously be looking to avoid a repeat of that day, but will relish the chance to play on the once-forbidden island.

Missing persons

Before we talk about anyone else, a moment for Clint Dempsey, who was not called up after being shut down for the remainder of the season by his MLS team Seattle Sounders, after a recurrence or continued issue with an irregular heartbeat. It’s difficult to say what is going on with Dempsey’s health, and whether the problem will be long-term, career-ending, or just a frustrating blip. Little information has come out of Seattle of Dempsey’s camp, so fans are mostly in the dark. Assuming Dempsey’s overall health is not compromised, we’re left hoping only that Deuce’s playing days are not done, at least not without the chance to say goodbye to one of the finest American players ever.

The other conspicuous absences are Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. While Guzan hasn’t been playing with Middlesbrough, there’s little reason to read anything into this beyond what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said—these friendlies are a great opportunity for younger keepers Ethan Horvath, David Bingham, and William Yarbrough to get experience. As good as Howard and Guzan have been and continue to be, the time is coming, sooner rather than later, when new faces will need to take up the reins. While the US produces goalkeepers at a high rate, the “next generation”—the Bill Hamids and Sean Johnsons—never really laid down their claim. Klinsmann, it seems, wants to give even younger players a chance now, and so turns to these three up-and-comers.

One other player not in camp is the Philadelphia Union’s own Alejandro Bedoya. Ale was called up, as expected, but withdrew to recover from the strained rib muscle injury he has been carrying, and which forced his substitution against New York Red Bull last week.

New and returning players

The US welcomes back some familiar faces in Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler, but most interesting is surely Perry Kitchen, who has thrived in Scotland since leaving MLS, being named Heart of Midlothian’s captain after only six months with the club. Lynden Gooch, all of 20 years old, has received his first call-up. Having started four of five league games for Sunderland in England this season, the US is looking to cap-tie the young midfielder as a senior player. Gooch has previously played for the US at U-20 level and the Republic of Ireland at U-18.

The game

Getting down to brass tacks, the US has a 9-1-1 record against Cuba, last facing them a year ago in the Gold Cup, where the US won, 6-0. The last time Cuba scored more than a single goal against the US was 1949. The US has failed to score multiple goals on only three occasions, and has never been shut out. In short, historic locale aside, the US should win, and win big. With players like Sacha Kljestan, Jozy Altidore, and Christian Pulisic all coming into the game in excellent form, the US attack will simply be too much for Cuba to handle. Prediction:  USA 3–0 Cuba.

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