[USA-CUBA] A 6-0 thrashing of Cuba in its Concacaf Olympic qualifying opener Thursday didn't stretch the U.S. under-23s to any significant extent, yet it offered an intriguing glimpse into the possibilities of the players and tactics at the disposal of Coach Caleb Porter.
Well, now we know the U.S. under-23 team can exploit a weak Concacaf opponent reduced to 10 men.
We also know that Joe Benny Corona, who has shown an affinity to score goals with his club team by opportunistic finishing, can do the same in other environments. He scored three weeks ago in a 2-0 defeat of Mexico, and at LP Field in Nashville struck three goals against a feeble Cuban team devastated, both numerically and psychologically, by a straight red card meted out to Dario Macias in the 19th minute.
By then, the Americans already led, 1-0, on Corona’s finish of a rebound given up by Cuba keeper Odisnel Cooper. He came out for a Freddy Adu free kick he could have caught but under pressure instead punched it right to Corona, who knocked it past Cooper into the net.
Macias got his red card for tussling for a ball with Juan Agudelo, whose scrappy challenge prompted the Cuban player to lash out with his elbow. His dismissal greatly eased the Americans’ task, and from that point they dominated play with intertwined sequences of passing and movement as fatigue and confusion turned many of the Cubans into statues for long periods.
Midfielders Corona, Mix Diskerud and Jared Jeffrey functioned smoothly to link the back four with the front three: Brek Shea usually on the left, Agudelo centrally, and Adu on the right wing. Diskerud orchestrated many of the attacks and also took most of the set plays, displaying an impressive array of passes delivered at myriad angles and distances.
Jeffrey served as a pivot in front of the back four, and exploited the space and time afforded him to supply outlet passes in all directions. He played a bit deeper than Diskerud, who ranged forward and out wide to find the forwards or play well-timed balls for Corona. Jeffrey seldom needed to break up an attack or push the ball forward and one occasion in the first half lost a duel a few yards outside his own penalty area.
Except for a few isolated moments when a Cuban attacker battled his way into a position to take a shot or deliver a cross, the Americans smothered their opponent. The defenders seldom resorted to the long ball, preferring to find an open teammate upfield or move the ball along their line until space opened up. Keeper Bill Hamid used his rare touches effectively by firing the ball out to a teammate on the bounce or along the ground. He made just one save.
The Cubans wanted no part of Shea, whose marauding runs up left side provided a ball that Agudelo converted for the second goal, and another that bounced off defender Arturo Diz Pe for the fourth. Those goals in the final minutes of the first half, tacked onto Corona’s cleverly sliced finish of a Diskerud square pass, provided a 4-0 halftime lead. In the second half Adu hit a blast from distance and Corona, again set up by Diskerud, completed his hat trick in the final minutes.
In the other Group A match, El Salvador and Canada played a 0-0 tie. The Canadians are next for the Americans on Saturday, and off their opening performance will need to step up their pressure to counteract a very fluid and cohesive U.S. attack.