The United States is set to take on Cuba on Saturday in the 2013 Gold Cup. On paper, it looks like it should be a pretty easy match for the Americans.
After a 6-1 drubbing of Belize on Tuesday, the Americans are currently the class of the tournament and have thus far escaped the upset bug. Cuba, on the other hand, lost 3-0 to Costa Rica and looked pretty awful in the match.
The U.S. offense is on a roll right now. Chris Wondolowski netted a hat trick against Belize, while Landon Donovan added a goal and two assists. That made Donovan the first player with at least 50 goals and 50 assists for the national team, as per USA Today.
Donovan's return—and subsequent excellent play—cannot be understated. Since his first match back against Guatemala, he has scored three goals and added two assists. If he can continue this high level of play, then the Americans should sail through to the Gold Cup final.
It is also encouraging to see Wondolowski break out in the way he has. He's had trouble scoring on the international level, despite being a top MLS scorer who scored 27 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2012. Now, between his hat trick against Belize and a goal against Guatemala, it seems that he's found his footing.
The combination of Wondolowski and Donovan forms a potent one-two punch with which defenses are going to have trouble.
Cuba is not a great team, although they have shown flashes of ability. They will not qualify for the World Cup, but they did win the Caribbean Cup in order to get to the Gold Cup. In that run, goalkeeper Odelin Molina had three consecutive clean sheets, as well as a 374-minute shutout streak.
Still, Cuba looked overmatched against Costa Rica. Per ESPNFC, Costa Rica controlled the ball for 68 percent of the match. The Cubans were only able get three shots on net.
Cuba's defense was suspect too, and they had no match for Costa Rica's Michael Barrantes, as evidenced by this beauty of a goal, per Fox Soccer:
GOAL Costa Rica! Barrantes gives his side a 1-0 lead over Cuba. See it: - http://t.co/HSL4OFsaPU— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 10, 2013
The blueprint for the Americans to beat Cuba is simple: get as many scoring chances as possible. While Molina is a good goaltender, there is a difference between the Caribbean Cup and the Gold Cup, between playing Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.
Costa Rica exposed the Cuban defense. Cuba never got a handle on the ball, and the Barrantes goal showed how easy it is to penetrate the back line.
How many goals will the U.S. score against Cuba?
While the Cubans did have 18 shots, only three went on goal. Costa Rica gave them some room outside the box, but Cuba was unable to capitalize.
The U.S., then, can take solace in their solid defense—one that has given up just five goals in its last six matches. The defense should be able to handle the relatively weak Cuban offense, giving players like Donovan and Wondolowski room to stay on the attack and push the pace.
It will be an absolute shock if the Cubans beat the Americans. Really, it'll be a shock if they're even competitive. But this Gold Cup has been a bit funky. Mexico lost to Panama in the opening round and Canada lost to Martinique, so anything is possible.
Still, the Americans are on a roll. They have won their last six matches and have outscored their opponents 21-5. They are on a path to easily reach the finals of this tournament and are the heavy favorites to win it all.
It should be an easy match for the Americans. Between the general ineptitude of Cuba and the Americans' stout defense and suddenly explosive offense, look for the U.S. to win this one handily.