WASHINGTON, D.C. (Saturday, October 11, 2008) -- The United States men easily defeated an outmanned and eventually shorthanded Cuba 6-1 tonight in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying semifinal-round match at RFK Stadium before an enthusiastic crowd of 20,293.
At 4-0 with 12 points with two semifinal games left, the U.S. secured advancement to the six-nation final round for the region that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The top three teams from that 10-match, round-robin competition, which starts in late January, will advance to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while the fourth-place finisher will play off against a South American team for another spot.
The U.S. will depart Sunday for Trinidad & Tobago for next Wednesday's qualifier which manager Bob Bradley can use to look at some different players who might prove helpful in the future. He will probably release some of tonight's players back to their clubs and presumably call in replacements from Major League Soccer.
"We'll go back to the hotel now and sort things out," Bradley said.
The U.S. performance tonight was as dominant as could ever be expected in a qualifier. The American defense was never under any kind of pressure and rarely touched the ball, except when it was passed back to them. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was credited with only a single save, but was caught out of position when Cuba scored the first goal the U.S. has allowed in 2008 qualifying.
Bradley started the same lineup he did the last time out against Trinidad & Tobago when the Americans won 3-0 in Bridgeview, Ill. While Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey were constantly attacking, Brian Ching was listed as the only forward in a 4-5-1 formation.
Both Donovan and Dempsey spent much of the night playing in the center of midfield behind Ching. They completely controlled play in the middle and had the Cubans on their heels all night.
The Americans came out flying on the attack and, in the fourth minute, Donovan sent Dempsey cleanly through for a shot directly at Cuba goalkeeper Odelin Molina. Gradually, the U.S. shifted the attack to the left side and a short pass from Sacha Kljestan found fellow midfielder DaMarcus Beasley alone in the left side of the penalty area. Beasley scored with a curling shot into the far side netting.
Beasley scored his second for a 2-0 lead in the 30th minute when he beat a failed offside trap to collect a long looping pass from Donovan and shot past Molina.
With an overall streak of six straight shutouts, the U.S. made an uncharacteristic mental error within the next two minutes after Cuba took the ball down the left side. The Americans failed to properly clear the subsequent cross and Jenzy Munoz chipped the loose ball straight over the head of keeper Tim Howard, who had strode five yards off his goal-line, narrowing the deficit to 2-1.
Cuba's good feelings did not last long when, nine minutes later, midfielder Yoel Colome was issued his second yellow card and was sent off.
Bradley was not happy taking only a one-goal advantage into intermission, given the Americans' complete dominance of the action.
"We knew we had a little letdown after we scored the second goal," Bradley said. "But we felt we had done a lot of good things and felt strongly we had to come out in the second half and reestablish control."
That's exactly what happened. The U.S. toyed with the Cubans and quickly went up 3-1 after a half dozen passes carried it deep into the Cuban end. Defender Heath Pearce sent a pass across the goal mouth for Donovan to easily tap in the 48th minute.
In the 62nd, Beasley sent a free kick from the right side to the far post and Kljestan headed it back into the middle where Ching put it away for a 4-1 margin.
Reserve striker Jozy Altidore took a Dempsey pass and outran a defender to make it 5-1 and defender Oguchi Onyewu, who grew up in nearby Olney, Md., finished the scoring when he crashed through a pair of defenders for a powerful header off reserve midfielder Freddy Adu's cross.
In the 67th minute, the Americans introduced Josť Torres to their fans, committing a young midfielder, who would have been eligible to play for Mexico, to the U.S. With Torres, Altidore and Adu coming off the bench, U.S. fans were treated to a peak at the future and all three did well.
Even with the barrage of goals, the Americans could be faulted for a lack of quality finishing when the match was close. The game should have turned into the rout it was much earlier.
Beasley was particularly impressive with his two goals and complete hustle. He's coming back from knee surgery and several other nagging injuries and, only now, has demonstrated full fitness, playing at a pace that, at times, simply overwhelmed the Cubans.
"It's been tough, start stop, start stop," Beasley said "First, my knee injury and, since then, several little things I have picked up. But now for the past month, I'm starting to feel fit and get back on the field for (Glasgow) Rangers and to come into this camp ready to go."
Bradley had plenty to be pleased about.
"We certainly know that any team will come here and they're going to be organized, and you can't expect you're going to break them down immediately," he said. "But if you stick to doing the right things, if you keep moving, if you keep finding the little seams and playing the right ball, then you know over the course of 90 minutes they won't be able to keep going. We had that working for us in the second half tonight."
Cuba's German head coach Reinhold Franz started a similar team to the one that lost to the U.S. 1-0 in Havana last month. Veteran winger Jaime Colome, who was unable to start in Havana, was ready to go. Normal starting striker Roberto Linares was out, serving a one-match, red-card suspension.
The Cuban cause was not helped as, has been a common occurrence when Cuba visits the U.S., two players -- midfielder Pedro Faife, 24, and forward Reynier Alcantara, 26 -- walked away from their hotel in Virginia Thursday night or Friday and are presumed to have defected. Although the two have more then 80 caps for Cuba between them, Faife came on as a second-half substitute in the previous meeting in Havana, while Alcantara did not play.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5.5: Had little to do, but made a bad error in positioning to allow the Cuban goal, leaving the match close until early in the second half.
Defender Heath Pearce - 6: Was very active, often pushing far into the attack, but always getting back to handle his defensive chores. Worked well with Beasley ahead of him on the left flank.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 5.5: Did not have a busy night. Did what he had to without any errors, but might have done better on Cuba's goal.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 7: A tower of strength in the middle, he powered a header for a nice goal near the end.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Gave away nearly nothing in the middle and had a relaxed evening. .
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 6: Produced his best match in a while. Was quite active both defensively and offensively, and was involved in several goals.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He played a good game, but was off target on several shots. He continues to show a lack of judgment at times, committing unnecessary fouls and getting too much attention from the referee.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: A terrific performance. He continually set up his teammates, while scoring one of his own.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 7.5: Two goals and a 100-percent effort over 90 minutes. A little better finishing and he could have had a couple more tallies.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: Played well over the entire 90 minutes, picking his spots. Was involved in several goals, but also disappeared at times.
Forward Brian Ching - 6: No one can ever question his work rate. He isn't particularly speedy or technical, but he is a digger who does the hard work.
Midfielder Jose Torres (68th minute for Pearce) - 5.5: Earned his first cap after only a week with the squad. Showed the promise that makes the American staff excited that he chose to play for the U.S. over Mexico.
Forward Jozy Altidore (68th minute for Ching) - 6: Used his speed well against a tiring Cuban defense. Scored a very nice goal in what was overall a positive appearance.
Midfielder Freddy Adu (76th minute for Kljestan) - 5.5: Came on at a point where the game was disintegrating, so he really had little chance to settle in. Still, he made a lovely cross on the final goal.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: DaMarcus Beasley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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