U.S. Men's National Team

USMNT 2, Cuba 0: The SBI Breakdown


The U.S. Men’s National Team’s clash with Cuba was not a good soccer game. The play was ugly. The field was uglier. The stakes were low, and the desire, at times, seemed even lower.

However, it was a good look into the USMNT program, and what needs fine-tuning heading into the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.

While a majority of the team’s biggest stars faltered, a group of young prospects stepped up to carry the load. Meanwhile, one of the most maligned players of the Jurgen Klinsmann era rose above the criticism, scoring a second half goal to avoid disaster.

With bigger tests on the horizon, it’s important not to read too much into a 2-0 win on a field that looked more like a backyard than a soccer pitch. However, there were several important takeaways for the U.S. as Klinsmann continues to finalize what should be the first team going forward.

Here are some key takeaways from Friday’s USMNT win:


Chris Wondolowski will never be world class. Heck, he may never be much more than a solid MLS goalscorer as his career rattles on. However, the forward showed that he does offer a bit more than just an enthusiastic demeanor and veteran presence.

For years, Wondolowski has been the USMNT whipping boy. His miss against Belgium still hovers above him more than two years later, prompting critics to come out of the woodwork whenever his name is all too predictably listed on an American roster.

Those critics were out in full force again as the San Jose Earthquakes star was added to Friday’s match. Moments later, he was pouncing, in true Wondolowski fashion, poaching home a rebound for a goal that turned the tide. After that, it was an assist, setting up Julian Green to seal the win. Wondolowski wasn’t brought in for moral support; he was brought in to make a difference, and he did just that. He will never be the player to lead the U.S. past the Argentinas and Colombias of the world, but in those road CONCACAF games where split seconds can keep the U.S. from embarrassing losses, Wondo always seems to be ready to go.

Are there younger options? Yes. Are there better options? Probably. But Wondolowski’s spot on the national team is deserved for many reasons, several of which were on display on Friday afternoon. He’s the consummate professional and, in games like Friday’s fiasco, a soothing presence for a team that can use one every now and then. Wondolowski still has a part to play, even if it is never one that will see him light up the biggest stage.


Throughout a lackluster first half, just two USMNT players looked ready to play. Coincidentally, it was the two starters that most needed a statement performance to seal their spots on the senior team.

Julian Green and Ethan Horvath were the lone standouts throughout a majority of Friday’s match. Surrounded by first-team regulars, the young duo shined on opposite ends of the pitch as their more veteran teammates sputtered. At moments, the two looked like the only players that truly cared, although they certainly had reason to.

Green entered camp with a point to prove. His career has been on on what felt like a constant dip since the high of scoring against Belgium, as a spot on the senior team looked very, very distant for quite some time. A solid string of performances during Bayern’s preseason earned him another look, and he took full advantage by proving the USMNT’s most active attacker throughout Friday’s match. In addition to setting up and scoring a goal, Green fired seven of the USMNT’s 17 shots while completing 16 of 17 passes. Was his decision-making questionable at times? Yes. However, Green appeared to be the only attacking player with any ideas until Wondolowski’s entrance in the second half.

Horvath, like Green, had some shaky moments. He came off his line a bit too quickly on one Cuba chance, and was lucky not to be beaten as the Cubans rattled the post time and time again. Still, the Molde goalkeeper made a trio of saves in a very tough environment while looking much more mature than one would expect from a 21-years-old. He certainly furthered his case for the future, although William Yarbrough and David Bingham will likely get their chance on Tuesday. The fact that Klinsmann trusted Horvath for a full 90 is telling, and he rewarded his coach by keeping a clean sheet on his debut, even if it wasn’t the most comprehensive showing.

Overall, the two up-and-comers stood out, and should certainly be up for consideration as the U.S. marches towards the Hex.


The U.S. never looked good on Friday. It was clear, from the first minute, that there was no rhythm, and no drive, for a team that should have won Friday’s match by a handful of goals. Boasting a lineup featuring a majority of the players likely to take the field against Mexico, the U.S. expected more.

It never came, as the team’s biggest stars disappeared. Call it a lack of motivation, a lack of comfort or even just a bad day, but the U.S. did not show up on Friday afternoon. Part of that certainly has to do with circumstances, but it also has to raise a few questions of what lies ahead.

The defense, the rock of the team throughout the Copa America, looked shaky. DeAndre Yedlin had his moments, but was likely outplayed by Timmy Chandler. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks bungled touch after touch while struggling to truly contain what should have been an impotent Cuba attack.

In front of them, Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan never truly got going, remaining quiet throughout the match. At the forward position, Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood seemingly couldn’t get out of each other’s way as the two lacked any sort of spark in the attacking third.

Is it overly concerning? Probably not. This group has shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with teams much tougher than Cuba. But attitude-wise, the U.S. needs to show a bit more against New Zealand if they hope to approach the Hex with the correct mentality. There’s no room for a letdown against Mexico or Costa Rica, and the U.S. needs to prepare accordingly.


Friday’s match was several things. It was a political olive branch, one symbolizing improved relations between two previously-hostile nations. It was a solid runout for a U.S. team that needed a bit of adversity before tackling the Hex. What it was not was a soccer masterclass.

It was never going to be pretty. The field was a disaster, rendering ball movement on playable. The schedule was a mess as the U.S. had to leapfrog Hurricane Matthew to even make it to the island safely. The motivation, realistically, wasn’t there, as the U.S. is already looking ahead to next month. Perspective is key when it comes to Friday’s effort, one which certainly won’t be remembered for very long.

Friday afforded young players like Christian Pulisic a first-hand look at the trials and tribulations of CONCACAF, a federation where it is all too common to play on fields worse than any seen back home. Pulisic was one of several players exposed to the physical nature of the game, and Klinsmann was smart to yank the midfielder at halftime to prevent a catastrophic injury.

The biggest positive of all from Friday’s events was that there were no true injuries, save for a vicious headkick suffered by Steve Birnbaum. The U.S. escaped relatively unscathed, and they will be better for it in the future.

    • swy19

      “Are there better options? Probably”

      That’s all I, or anyone else, needs to know. Enough with Wondo. US will qualify for the World Cup, and he won’t be there. If they don’t qualify, it will be due to problems far greater than “Wondo wasn’t here to score against a FIFA rated #100-200 opponent”.


    • SilverRey

      Ok, yes 3 of his 11 international goals are against Cuba, but remember he also scored against Mexico…

      11g in 35 caps is still pretty decent.


      • LouisZ

        Wondo has scored against Belize and Cuba in games that counted. He has scored against Guatemala, Mexico and S Korea is friendlies. He has played in 34 games.


    • Nate Dollars

      agreed. much like the st. v and t&t (dead rubber) matches, the only real takeaways from this match could be negative, not positive.


      • Nate Dollars

        not to me he didn’t. not that he was bad, i just already knew he was good enough to look great against poor opponents, so it wasn’t really any new information. *shrug* guess it depends on the observer.

        maybe that’s the crux of the matter: apparently some people were also surprised that pulisic could hang with those teams as well.


  • David

    You guys are missing the point. Wondo is a great poacher. On a crap field where you know the ball is going to be bouncing around and passing a challenge, a poacher is the right tool and Wondo delivered. Any other game and that tool isn’t the right one – but Wondo will be a great asset in other crap field qualifiers


    • Nate Dollars

      bobby’s also a great poacher when that’s all he’s asked to do, and i think the rest of his game is already better than wondo’s; if we just need someone to put the ball in the net at the end of the game, we could also move pulisic or even kljestan up top. and of course the point is moot when dempsey returns, as he’s the best poacher we have.

      the fact remains that wondo is almost never the ideal answer for whatever question’s being asked.


    • Dennis

      Recall that Conor Casey was a surprise starter for Bradley against Honduras in Honduras in a must win game for the US to qualify for the 2010 WC. Casey lead the effort with 2 goals and was clearly the man of the match. (Casey was not on the final WC squad.) At his age, Wondo may be called upon again to play a similar role.


  • EAScott

    I know it’s been said before, but it needs to be said again, shame on US soccer for scheduling this game. Playing a terrible team on an even worse field is not helping us prepare for Mexico. I know a lot of teams are playing qualifying games, but we could have gotten a better game than this…


    • CU24

      There’s not a lot of options out there with UEFA and CONMEBOL qualifiers going on at the same time.


  • Chris Weidner

    I guess I just wasn’t entirely impressed with wondos performance, other than the goal and assist, took poor shots and put them off target, I just would like to take a real look at some other strikers in the pool (agudelo, sapong, bruin, ramirez even jack mac). I was impressed with how green took on defenders, just wanna see him get time elsewhere. I really don’t like the 2 guys up top, especially cuz wood and altidore dont feed off each other the way deuce and jozy do. I’d play this group vs NZ:

    I’d like to see Bingham get the second half
    Chandler for yedlin
    Kitchen for bradley
    williams for cameron
    wood for jozy
    arriola for pulisic


    • CU24

      It’s been shown time and time again that Altidore can’t play by himself up top, I don’t know why people keep asking for it, it’s not his preferred position. As for all the other players you mentioned, they all have fewer goals than Wondo in MLS, so they wouldn’t be an upgrade.


  • larry

    Who cares about Wondo or his goals. Many other also-ran American forwards might have done as well or better in that particular game. It was a waste of time. When Christian Pulisic looks like one of the worst players in the squad, you should know that something is awfully wrong. Things were so wrong that all conclusions about performance, positive or negative, should be disregarded.


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