United States Olympic Qualifying, A Class Above Cuba

Joe Corona celebrates a first half goal against Cuba with the team

Claudio Reyna joined Caleb Porter on the bench for the United States’ opening match in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and they both liked what they saw.  Porter lined the team up in his 4-3-3 with Hamid in goal; Sarkodie, Kitchen, Opara, and Valentin in front of him; Jeffrey playing the defensive role in a midfield triangle with Corona and Diskerud; and then a forward line of Adu, Agudelo, and Shea.  The tournament allows a full bench, meaning the rest of the squad was available as substitutes: Terrence Boyd, Teal Bunbury, Joe Gyau, Sean Johnson, Amobi Okugo, Michael Stephens, Tony Taylor,  Jorge Villafana, and Sheanon Williams.

The US was in control of the game from the outset, dictating play and probing for holes in Cuba‘s defense.  That hole came in the 11th minute when Joe Corona opened the scoring.  Freddy Adu put a served a free kick into the box and Juan Agudelo rose to challenge but Cuba’s keeper (Odisnel Cooper) came out to punch.  The ball fell to Corona in the box, who took it off his check and neatly side footed into the back of the net.

Inside twenty minutes, Dayron Macías received a straight red card for slapping Juan Agudelo in the face and catching him with an elbow.  The incident looked worse than it actually was and Cuba was unfortunate to go down a man.

After Corona drew a foul outside the box which resulted in a free kick for the US in the center of the field 30 yards out, Shea again put in good service from the left side.  Brek Shea centered a cross that found Juan Agudelo in all sorts of space to head home and leave Cooper sprawling.

Mere seconds later, Corona got his second.  After collecting a failed clearance of a Shea cross at the edge of the box, Mix Diskerud had the vision to play a square pass across the front of goal and Corona stuck a foot out to redirect the ball into the corner from 12 yards out.

Minutes later, Shea forced an own goal.  After making a run down the left side, Brek Shea played a quick ball into the box towards Agudelo.  Cuban central defender Arturo Dizpes attempted to clear but he missed his kick and the ball caromed off his standing leg past a diving Cooper in the 43rd minute.

The referee blew an end to the first half, US leading 4-0 and up a man on Cuba.  Jared Jeffrey isn’t going to be a name on the scoresheet but he’s done well to keep the possession for the US and be the pivot to switch the point of attack from left to right.

To start the second half, Teal Bunbury came on for Juan Agudelo.  Bunbury has been struggling to regain his form for both club and country, but what better time to gain confidence than during a rout of a vastly inferior team?  With practically his first involvement, Bunbury was sprung on a break away against Cuban keeper Cooper.

Shea drew a free kick just outside the box, but the creative prearranged routine ended in a Jeffrey drive wide.  Some of the passing interchange in the first ten minutes of the second half were reminiscent of a certain Catalan side.

In the 57th minute, Brek Shea made way for Joe Gyau.  Gyau, still just 19 years old, broke down the left side and laid the ball back to a late arriving Diskerud who forced Cooper into a tremendous one handed save low to his right.

Before the match, his teammates named Freddy Adu captain.  He could be seen directing his team throughout the match, including when defending free kicks.  From nearly nothing, Adu got his reward for a stellar effort all night.  Freddy Adu receives the ball in space, uses his first touch to turn and his second to place the ball in the upper corner.

Shortly after, Amobi Okugo replaced Jared Jeffrey in the 65th minute.  Okugo slotted into the holding role of the midfield triangle where Jeffrey simultaneously snuffed out Cuban attacks and dictated play for the US.

Diskerud exhibited a fantastic first touch and superb passing, but his set pieces left something to be desired.  Most of his corner kicks failed to get past the first defender.  But he made up for this deficiency with another assist, feeding the ball to Corona in a tight space just inside box.  Corona took the ball and curled it into the far corner across a diving Cooper for his hat-trick.  His three goals and overall strong performance in midfield earned Joe Corona man of the match honors.

Caleb Porter, in his postgame interviews, stressed the importance of staying grounded.  While getting a 6-0 result is still a laudable achievement, Porter talked about the team focusing on the next game against Canada on Saturday night.  He also noted how well the team moved the ball around the field.  Freddy Adu commented on how even when the Cuban team packed in after the dismissal, the US was still able to penetrate the defense and create numerous chances.

All in all, this type of win was expected of the US team facing arguably the weakest team in the tournament.  The manner of complete dominance of possession and the clean sheet, however, will be tremendous positives the team can take into the match against Canada.


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