You’d be forgiven for thinking that Friday’s USMNT match against Cuba was a joke. Based on the effort the U.S. players gave, they certainly thought it was.
The match was far more of a historic political event than a soccer game, and it’s hard to truly take anything positive away from the game. If anything, it gave relative CONCACAF newbies such as DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Julian Green, and Christian Pulisic a taste of what they’ll face when they play away games in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Of all the terrible fields the U.S. has played on in CONCACAF, this was by far the worst. The bumps were visible on TV and the random bare patches made passing almost impossible. In fact, almost the only positive thing you can say about this match was that the U.S. did not sustain any injuries.
The effort that the United States gave in the first half was laughable and it was obvious the players were less than thrilled about having to partake in this game. For long periods of time it looked like the U.S. would be leaving Cuba with an embarrassing result, but second half goals from Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green put the result in the U.S.’s favor.
Coming into this camp, manager Jurgen Klinsmann said the two October friendlies served a dual purpose. The first was to prepare for Mexico and the second was to expand the United States player pool. On the surface those two ideas don’t seem to work hand in hand as you can only play so many players at one time.
Klinsmann showed his hand against Cuba, throwing out what will likely be his starting XI against Mexico with the exception of a healthy Ale Bedoya likely replacing Julian Green. Several of the starters were removed after just 45 minutes so the amount of gelling they did was minimal but there were still a few points that could become concerns down the road.
Once again Fabian Johnson looked completely disinterested in being on the field and involved in the game, which is a trait he has displayed nearly every time he has started at left back. Johnson is a winger, a player who strongly prefers to be up the field and involved in the attack. Playing him at left back stymies his ability to get involved. For some reason he’s the only player that no one seems to mind he plays a different position for club than country. In a game like this Klinsmann should have taken advantage of the chance to see how Kellyn Acosta or Timmy Chandler could have done on the left side, and played Johnson on the wing opposite Christian Pulisic.
The other concern for the U.S. was the strike partnership of Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore. To put it simply, the two are incompatible with each other. It doesn’t matter how many goals they have combined for when playing together, those were against terrible CONCACAF teams. When they play against good teams, like Mexico, their incompatibility will be exposed.
Bobby Wood is a stretch-the-field striker. He makes runs that stretch out defenses which leaves a lot of space for the second striker to operate underneath. That’s something that proved very useful in the Copa America as it allowed Clint Dempsey to flourish. But Jozy Altidore does not have that skill set. He’s not the kind of player that can take advantage of the space Wood is creating. Altidore is a hold-up-the-ball kind of striker. You boom the ball up to Altidore and he holds up play, that kind of skill-set doesn’t match with Wood’s.
Like Klinsmann said, the purpose of these games was to prepare for Mexico and the Hex while also expanding the player pool. It’s clear Klinsmann planned to use the Cuba game to prepare for the Hex and will use the New Zealand match as a means of expanding the player pool.
Nine, mostly European based, U.S. players returned to their club teams after the match which will give them a full week to re-acclimate back to their clubs and be ready for their upcoming matches next weekend.
John Brooks, Christian Pulisic, Timmy Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Bobby Wood, Ethan Horvath, and Fabian Johnson were the European contingent who left, while MLS based players Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski also rejoined their clubs.
To replace the outgoing players, the U.S. called in seven new faces. Bill Hamid, Kellyn Acosta, Juan Agudelo, Terrane Boyd, Matt Besler, Michael Orozco, and Tim Parker were all added to the squad.
This is the first time Terrance Boyd has appeared with the national team since making the preliminary 30-man roster for the 2014 World Cup. He missed over a year with a torn ACL that he suffered in December 2014. Agudelo is returning to the U.S. for the first time since appearing as a sub in the US’s win over Germany in June 2015.
The updated roster is as follows.
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), William Yarbrough (Leon)
Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Tijuana), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Danny Williams (Reading)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Terrence Boyd (Leipzig), Julian Green (Bayern Munich)