Gold Cup: U.S. crushes Cuba
Jurgen Klinsmann needed just four words to get his message to his U.S. national soccer team before it crushed Cuba 6-0 in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup at M&T Bank Stadium: Don’t waste any chances.
Clint Dempsey certainly was listening, as he seized the opportunity by becoming just the fourth American to score three goals in an international game. Dempsey’s first hat trick in a career in which he’s been on three World Cup rosters put him in the U.S. record book alongside Brian McBride, Chris Wondolowski and Landon Donovan.
“What took Clint that long to get it?” Klinsmann joked when informed of Dempsey’s feat before turning serious and adding, “we wanted our players to take the game seriously and not show off. I told them if they took it lightly I’d take them off the field in 10 minutes.”
Dempsey scored off a header in the fourth minute and a penalty kick in the 64th before capping his historic day in the 78th minute.
“Clint’s hungry for the goal and he has two more meals,” Klinsmann said, referring to the team’s semifinal on Wednesday and a third-place game of final next weekend in Phialdelphia. “Those are the two games we really need him to score.”
The U.S. will face Jamaica or Haiti in the semifinals in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, with the winner advancing to the Gold Cup final on July 26 in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, while the loser will play a day at PPL Park in the same city.
“The pressure is on us,” Klinsmann said. “The expectations are on us.”
Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson and Omar Gonzalez also scored for the United States.
“From the first second of the game we were spot-on,” Klinsmann said. “When we got one goal, we wanted to get another one and then another one. The players enjoyed this.”
Of course the Americans did – history isn’t made every day. The U.S.’s six-goal win was its most lopsided win in the Gold Cup – an event the Americans have dominated, having won four of the past seven tournaments since winning its first in 1991, the event’s inaugural year.
The U.S. showed why it’s the defending champion and set on winning the event for a sixth time, which seems imminent if the Americans continue to play as well as they did against the Cubans, who made as much news for its string of defections on the field as it did for its shoddy play on it.
The U.S. needed less than four minutes to take the lead for good against the overmatched Cubans. Defender Timmy Chandler collected the ball along the right sideline and bent a perfectly placed cross into the penalty box, where Dempsey headed it over flailing goalie Diosvelis Guerra for a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, the U.S. doubled its lead, when forward Zardes volleyed defender Fabian Johnson’s volley into the back of the goal from point-blank range – and the rout was on.
But it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Johannsson’s goal in the 32nd minute, when he broke free along the right sideline to collect a long pass from midfielder Michael Bradley. As Johannsson gathered himself, he saw Guerra had crept off his line, so he gently lofted a shot over him and into the goal for a 3-0 lead.
Johannsson helped the U.S. push its lead just before halftime when he headed Michael Bradley’s corner kick toward the goalmouth, where Gonzalez put it in the back of the next for his first international goal and a 4-0 lead.
The U.S. had scored a total of four times in its three games of pool play.
Dempsey moved into second place in U.S. Gold Cup scoring his fifth goal of the tournament when he converted a penalty shot after being taken down in the penalty box. There’s wasn’t anything beautiful about Dempsey’s penalty kick, as he waited for Guerra to move to his right before gently kicking it in the middle of the goal where Guerra vacated.
Demspey capped the win by hammering Bradley’s pass into the net from a just a few feet away, giving him his 42nd non-penalty kick goal, tying Donovan for most in U.S. history.
The U.S. felt right at home at M&T Bank Stadium, where red, white and blue-clad fans filled the stadium’s purple seats, providing a distinctive pro-U.S. crowd. That wasn’t the case in 2013, when three Central American teams – El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras – and their raucous fans joined the U.S. at M&T Bank Stadium for quarterfinals.
But this year’s three qualifiers – Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica – all hail from the Caribbean, where soccer simply isn’t as big as baseball and track. But that didn’t mean the games, especially U.S.- Cuba, didn’t have storylines.
About 75 minutes before kickoff, when starting lineups were distributed to the media, five Cubans – Ariel Martinez, Dario Suarez, Arael Arguellez, Archeel Hernandez and Keiler Garcia – had lines through their names, indicating they were no longer with the team.
In other words, five of the 23 players on Cuba’s Gold Cup roster reportedly defected, choosing to live in the U.S. instead of playing against it.
Garcia defected in Chicago ahead of Cuba’s opener against Mexico and backup goalkeeper Arguellez vanished before the team traveled to Arizona for its second match, against Trinidad and Tobago. Suarez and Hernandez were nowhere to be found during Wednesday’s win over Guatemala in North Carolina, which advanced the Cubans to the knockout stage of the Gold Cup for the first time. On Friday, Martinez disappeared.
Since 1999, about two dozen Cuban soccer players, from the senior and under-23 squads, have defected while the team was competing in the United States or Canada. In 2008, two Cuban players sprinted from the team hotel before Cuba’s World Cup qualifier against the U.S. in RFK Stadium.
“What [Cuba’s] coaching staff is going through is unthinkable,” Klinsmann said.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.