With its 4-1 victory over Cuba on July 13, the United States finds itself bound for the Gold Cup quarterfinals. Cuba made the U.S. work for its victory early on. Facing that effort from Cuba will prove beneficial for the Americans in the next round.
While the U.S. does have to take on Costa Rica to finish group play on July 16, both teams have already punched their tickets to the quarterfinals. Both teams have the option of resting players and could save a few designed plays for the next round.
The United States' next real bout comes in the quarterfinals. Regardless of which team it faces, the U.S. will be better prepared thanks to the Cuba match.
Landon Donovan and Co. were halted for much of the first half against Cuba, even falling behind 1-0 at one point. Jose Alfonso scored Cuba's only goal in the 35th minute after Ariel Martinez Gonzáles delivered him a cross inside the U.S. penalty box.
“It definitely helps you to get things a bit more urgent when you suddenly get a goal down out of nothing," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the media (via Yahoo! Sports) in the postgame interview.
The Americans were unable to get much of an offense going up until Donovan's penalty-kick goal just before the end of the half.
Cuba gave the U.S. a fight in the first half before surrendering four unanswered goals. Regardless of the lopsided final score, the game proved to be much tougher than when the U.S. defeated Belize 6-1.
While no team will ever complain about an easy win, facing and overcoming a challenge is more beneficial. The Americans will not get to face teams as easy to defeat as Belize in the quarterfinals.
The U.S. would also be wise to try to keep this momentum from the Cuba game going against Costa Rica. The Americans' next opponent has also won both of its Gold Cup contests—albeit having defeated Belize 1-0 on a Belize own goal.
Even if Klinsmann wants to rest some players, an impressive showing against Costa Rica will keep his team's momentum going.
Klinsmann's squad has had its first taste of a challenge thanks to Cuba. The close first half showed the Americans that they need to start each game with the same mentality they did in the second. The U.S. will implement this lesson through the rest of the tournament and won't be easy to eliminate.