The United States will play the role of Goliath tonight against Cuba, who will fill in for David, in the first of four 2015 Gold Cup quarterfinals this weekend. Being a fan of the USMNT is a weird thing these days. On one hand, they clinched their spot as the winner of Group A as fast as is mathematically possible despite facing the most difficult section the three seeded teams - Mexico and Costa Rica being the others - were given.
On the other hand, none of the three games saw Jurgen Klinsmann's side actually play well. Honduras will consider themselves unlucky to have lost a game they arguably edged, while Haiti sprang a tactical ambush on the US and nearly pulled off a shock draw despite a team featuring a squad made of players from various 2nd and 3rd division club sides. Finally, the US had to come from behind to draw against a Panama side that appears weaker than they were in the last round of World Cup qualifying.
The USMNT will have to put that behind them starting now, as one bad outing can dump you out of the competition altogether. Cuba will be by some distance the weakest team the US will face in this tournament, but they've got speed and will play this game with absolutely nothing to lose. Just as we see in any game where one team is heavily favored, all the pressure is on the US. Cuba will come in looking to park the bus, and Trinidad & Tobago's free-scoring attack found breaking that bunker hard work in the group stage. The US will need to do show their focus and their professionalism tonight in making sure to avoid a catastrophic defeat.
USMNT Projected Starting 11: I think the US lineup that faced Haiti - with attacking players in deeper roles than usual in order to get more skill on the field - is an indicator of what Klinsmann has planned today. Brad Guzan will get the start in goal, and I think we'll see DeAndre Yedlin surprisingly at right back, Omar Gonzalez - for his size on set pieces - and Tim Ream at center back, and DaMarcus Beasley on the left. The midfield diamond will remain, with Michael Bradley playing deep and Clint Dempsey in the attacking midfield role. Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson will take up the wide midfield spots. Up front, Gyasi Zardes and Aron Johansson will offer some mobility and fluidity.
Off the bench, I suspect we'll see Chris Wondolowski no matter what. I also suspect Joe Corona gets on the field in this one, perhaps at the point of the diamond (with Dempsey either being rested or moved up front, depending on the score). And because Klinsmann has to do something that will upset me, I am guessing we see Timothy Chandler come in either for Yedlin directly or to push Yedlin into the midfield.
Match previews: Let's start with Matt Doyle's tactical preview of the game for MLSsoccer.com. Earlier today, we talked about Dempsey's importance against a team that parks the bus. Stars and Stripes FC is a bit concerned at the lack of target men on the roster now that Jozy Altidore has returned to TFC. USsoccer.com compiled several of their pieces in one place, including one on Maryland native Kyle Beckerman and University of Maryland products Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi returning to by far our nation's greatest state.
What are you drinking: It's way too humid outside. Green Hat gin rickey, save us from the wrongs Mother Nature is subjecting us to!
Prediction: Expect a slow, irritating start to the match before the USMNT gets a goal - Dempsey, of course, probably mopping up a scramble from a set piece - and kicks it into gear. A second in first half stoppage time from Johnson forces Cuba to open up a bit, and after a brief hectic period the US makes it 3-0 via Zardes. From there, both teams accept the result, though Cuba keeps working at trying to get themselves on the scoreboard and probably forces Guzan into a couple of saves. 3-0 USMNT.
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