By Ridge Mahoney
The USA took command against a weakened foe to win comfortably in the end, yet it had to rally from a 1-0 deficit to beat Cuba, 4-1, in their Gold Cup Group C match in Sandy, Utah.
RSL players Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Kyle Beckerman all got starts in front of their home fans, yet the key performers were Liga MX-based Joe Corona and Jose Torres, and San Jose Earthquake Chris Wondolowski. Corona nailed the winner and Wondolowski, also a sub, scored the clinching third goal (from a Beckerman feed) and added a fourth.
RATING PLAYER (CLUB) GP/G
6 Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) 9/0.Could do nothing on the goal, and took care of everything else thrown his way. Caught a few crosses and punched another one arrowing to the far post that could have been trouble. Dove into a scramble to stop Livian Perez in the final minutes.
5 Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake) 2/0.He overcame some nervousness – playing his first competitive match in front of his club fans – to perform capably. Not quite confident enough to overlap aggressively, his passing attempts were hit-and-miss. He rarely erred defensively though his clearances could have been crisper.
6 Michael Orozco (Puebla/MEX) 7/2.The stronger and more composed of the two U.S. centerbacks, he did get caught forward in the second half and needed his partner to bail him out. Otherwise, he tackled strongly, won his duels in the air, and drilled a header on frame that was sensationally saved.
5 Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting/POR) 68/6.Jose Ciprian beat him to the cross that produced Cuba’s only goal and he survived one other shaky moment. A great recovery tackle stopped Ariel Martinez on a counter, and he finished the match strongly with a few key clearances.
5 Edgar Castillo (Tijuana/MEX) 12/0.He was scorched by Martinez as he set up the Cuban goal and exposed defensively a few other times, but his confidence on the wing when pushed forward enhanced the U.S. attack. He chipped good crosses, worked effective combinations, and earned a penalty kick.
7 Joe Corona (Tijuana/MEX) 7/0. He tried to inject some urgency in a sluggish first half and though occasionally betrayed by anxiety, gave enough effort to stay on the field. Flighted a great ball to the back post that yielded a disallowed goal. His spectacular first-time strike of a deflection produced the winning goal, and he had the Cubans scrambling to stop his crosses and dribbles for the rest of the match.
7 Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake 28/1.He couldn’t raise the tempo in a lethargic first half but did enough defensively to bottle up the opposition. Got forward more in the second half to push effective balls into advanced positions and hit line-drive crosses, one of which Wondolowski steered into the net for the third U.S. goal.
4 Stuart Holden (Bolton/ENG) 20/3. His midfield partners were more influential offensively, and he couldn’t seem to connect with them or the forwards most of the time. Defensively, on two occasions a Cuban dribbler took the ball right past him. An off-game might have been expected after solid performances against Guatemala and Belize as he continues his recovery.
3 Brek Shea (Stoke City/ENG) 19/0.He labored in the rain with his touch and decisions, then improved slightly when the weather cleared, dropping one dangerous lob to the far post after hitting a decent cross. Tried to threaten in the air but lacked timing and confidence was off. Overall, not a good outing.
6 Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) 147/53.Though the timing and touch occasionally betrayed him, Donovan menaced the Cuban defense often. He converted a penalty kick to tie the game after an offside flag deprived him of a goal, and he served up a free kick that Beckerman headed to the keeper.
4 Herculez Gomez (Tijuana/MEX) 23/7. Frustrated by rough treatment and officiating indifference, he seldom got into sync with his teammates. Gomez unluckily lost an assist when he knocked down a flighted ball for Donovan to tuck home, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
7 Jose Torres (Tigres/MEX) 23/0. After taking over for Shea at left mid, he and Castillo repeatedly unhinged the Cuban defense through combination play and dummy runs. He also delivered some excellent set plays.
7 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) 14/6.Scored his fifth and sixth goals of the last three games in typical fashion: an elegant near-post volley from a tight angle, and efficient dispatch of a loose ball. Failed to tally a second straight hat trick by firing right into the keeper at point-blank range.
6 Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/NOR) 6/1. He covered a lot of ground in central midfield and occasionally slipped forward to play the ball into good spots. Whipped a shot from distance a yard past the post.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=average; 10=high.)