A dubious beginning to Saturday's CONCACAF Gold Cup match for the United States men's national team turned out to be minimally concerning, as the Americans proceeded to win comfortably over Cuba 4-1 in Sandy, Utah's Rio Tinto Stadium.
This marked a historic occasion for the victors, with the U.S. team's record-tying seventh straight win, per Fox Soccer's official Twitter:
It wasn't without adversity, though, especially in the early going. Attacking Cuban midfielder Jose Alfonso silenced the crowd with a goal in the 36th minute to put the visitors up 1-0.
As the end of the first half approached, the drama heightened significantly.
Team USA striker Landon Donovan pounded home the equalizer as the 45-minute mark approached, but he was flagged for being offside.
A disbelieving Donovan protested the call to no avail, but it wasn't long before he exacted his revenge. Left back Edgar Castillo was dragged down as he and Donovan surged on the attack, resulting in a penalty kick.
At 45'(+2), Donovan fooled goalkeeper Odelin Molina, causing him to dive the wrong way to his left and allow the veteran to bury the free kick into the opposite corner of the net.
Around the 48th minute, the U.S. had a golden opportunity to take the lead, but Molina made a fantastic sprawling save, punching away the header by Michael Orozco with his right hand.
The persistence Donovan showed for possession approximately 10 minutes later paid massive dividends for his club, though.
A plethora of Cuban defenders flanked the ball, but Joe Corona was in the right place at the right time and blasted a perfect, low-bullet type of strike with his right foot for his first international goal, which turned out to be the game-winner.
Kyle Beckerman, a midfielder who calls Sandy home as a member of MLS' Real Salt Lake, set up San Jose Earthquakes superstar Chris Wondolowski for an insurance goal at 66 minutes. That marked Wondolowski's fifth goal in three matches.
Wondolowski wasn't done, as he worked himself into the Man of the Match conversation when he netted his second goal in the 85th minute for good measure to secure the result for the hosts:
Let's take a look at some grades for the notable performers from Saturday's Group C fixture, and provide a brief overview for what lies ahead for each team.
Landon Donovan, USA: A
The veteran completely set the tone for his side. In the past, the Americans could have gotten sluggish—as they had been in the first 36 minutes ahead of Alonso's initial goal—but that wasn't the case on this day.
Donovan made sure he and his teammates were up to the task and responsive immediately thereafter, and the push he made with Castillo to force the penalty was massive just ahead of the break.
Had it not been for that tide-turning development late in the opening 45-plus minutes, it's unclear what could have happened, and the home team could have been in for another disappointing effort.
Odelin Molina, Cuba: B-
Credit the Cuban keeper for attempting to hold his ground, but he was the victim of a combination of perfect strikes and breakdowns in front of him that led to the Americans lighting up the scoreboard.
Molina made an outstanding save on Orozco while his team still had a shot, as mentioned earlier. If not for the penalty and the lack of alertness displayed by the group of defenders who stood idly as Corona banged home the winner, the result could have been far different.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, but Molina should not shoulder the burden for this loss.
Chris Wondolowski, USA: A+
Who was more vital to the U.S. victory?
Wondolowski simply knows how to find the back of the net, and he capitalized on the chances he had on Saturday to devastate the Cubans and thwart any attempt of a comeback.
Perhaps it would be wise for the U.S. to insert Wondolowski into the starting XI to try to mesh with Donovan and give the Americans a big burst from the start, because Costa Rica will provide a stiff test in the next match.
Jose Alfonso, Cuba: A
There weren't many other chances generated by Cuba other than the wonderful effort from Alfonso to seize the early momentum.
Alfonso did not get much help, though, and had to focus the majority of his energy battling the opposition for possession. Eventually, the U.S. side simply proved to be overwhelming, and there was nothing Alfonso could do to combat that.
American coach Jürgen Klinsmann summed it up well after the match with regard to what's ahead for his squad:
. @J_Klinsmann "Costa Rica is the first real benchmark for us."— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) July 13, 2013
Klinsmann's clan is 2-0 in group play, but were expected to win the first two matchups. Costa Rica will be the most difficult opponent to date for the Americans, and it will indeed be a measuring-stick contest.
Meanwhile, it's back to the drawing board for Cuba, who falls to 0-2 after being outscored by a 7-1 aggregate counting Saturday's contest and their opening fixture facing the Costa Rica national team.