The United States Men's Under-23 National Team beat Cuba's Under-23 side in the first round of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying games, 6-0. The win puts the U.S. in the driver's seat of its group with El Salvador and Canada drawing, 0-0, in their first game.
It also put plenty of people into a state of disbelief, as Caleb Porter's side showed a scoring prowess and high-pressure game not seen often from an American team, especially from a USMNT side.
But there is still work to be done, and it's not time to get ahead of ourselves just yet. The U.S. beat a poor Cuba side that also went down a man in the 14th minute. That isn't to take away from the team's accomplishment or win, it's just a way to bring this game back to reality.
Even with the lopsided scoreline, Porter wasn't full of praise for the team; he knows this is just one game on a long journey. After the game, Porter told U.S. Soccer:
We’re obviously pleased with the strong start, but we’re also not satisfied with the performance. Even though the result was lopsided, I still thought it could have been better. Early in the game we were a little bit shaky in the buildup. The defending could have been a little tighter. It’s a little bit to be expected in the first game of the tournament. It’s been a long wait for this first game, and I think that showed a little bit in the nervousness out of a few guys.
USMNT senior international and FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea echoed Porter's thoughts on the game and stressed the team still needs to work on its game. Shea told U.S. Soccer after the game:
We won 6-0 and we were fortunate to go up a man early on. We still looked shaky, and there were times where we had no pressure and we still lost the ball. I think [Porter] knows we’re a better team, and I think we know we’re a better team. We have more games coming, so we better get ready for them.
There were some good signs too, though.
Porter has stressed he wants to press high and play a possession-oriented game. It's not easy in a defense-first soccer culture that has been built on being reactive. The USMNT has long been a tough team to beat, but rarely has the team been one that takes the game to opponents.
American players aren't known for their technical abilities or creativity, usually. To play a high-pressure, possession-based style, players need to not only be fit and ready to run, but also need to have technical abilities on the ball and creativity to see openings for the system to work.
Klinsmann has found a short supply of those types of players, so he's resorted to tweaking the team back to its former shape and adjusting from there. The momentous win over Italy in February is a good example of that.
Klinsmann employed two holding midfielders, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, to play in front of a deep-lying back four in defense.The U.S. sat back for much of the game and scrambled to keep Andrea Pirlo from picking them apart.
And like USMNT teams of the past, Klinsmann's men struck when the chance came and held on for the win. That's a more traditional style than people want to admit, but it happened. And the win overshadowed that the German coach still has a long way to go before he changes U.S. soccer culture's mentality and employs the kind of game he wants.
The win for Porter shows some positive movement in the direction Klinsmann wants to go.
It showed that the U.S. has the kind of players needed to push ahead with Klinsmann's overall plan. It also showed that Porter is the perfect person to coach the Under-23s and tutor the next crop of U.S. internationals through the pipeline, even if he is splitting time between coaching the Under-23s and coaching at Akron.
But again, this game was only against Cuba.
Canada and El Salvador are better than Cuba and should pose more problems for the U.S. If the U.S. makes it past them, which it should, there is still a semifinal game to get through before the finals, which the U.S. just has to make to qualify for the Olympics.
There could still be a speed bump along the way: Mexico. And if something does happen, and the U.S. somehow doesn't make the CONCACAF final, then this 6-0 win will only be a reminder that the talent is there, but work still needs to be done.