The USA and Cuba will make history on Friday as the Stars and Stripes travel to Havana for their first international friendly on Cuban soil since 1947.
The hosts sport a dreadful record against the Americans, winning just a single match in their previous encounters―that friendly in 1947 was a 5-2 drubbing. The last time the United States traveled to Cuba for an official match was in 2008, when they beat the hosts 1-0 in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
For the USA, this is the first of two friendlies ahead of the Hexagonal round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has plenty of work to do still, and for several players, this will be their last chance to earn a spot in the squad the German will use.
Date: Friday, October 7
Time: 4 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. BST
Venue: Estadio Pedro Marrero, Havana
TV Info: ESPN2 (U.S.)
Klinsmann has just two friendlies to finalise his 23-man squad for the first Hexagonal qualifiers, which start with key matches against rivals Mexico and Costa Rica in November. That makes Friday's match against Cuba and the friendly against New Zealand two important encounters that could make or break any player's chances of making the final team.
Plenty of regulars who will likely make the squad have made the trip to Havana, including Borussia Dortmund's Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley of Toronto FC, but there are also a handful of youngsters and fringe players who will get their opportunity.
Klinsmann highlighted Seattle Sounders' Jordan Morris, one of many attacking options who will have to fight for his place, per Major League Soccer's official Twitter account:
A number of players increased their profile during the last round of qualifying, most notably Sacha Kljestan of the New York Red Bulls.
The former Anderlecht man played a key role in the win over Trinidad and Tobago that sealed the team's spot in the Hexagonal, and he should be a starter against El Tri if he can carry his momentum in these two friendlies.
Goal's Ives Galarcep believes in his chances:
Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler will hope to follow his example by grasping this opportunity. The pair have featured for the Stars and Stripes in the past but failed to make the most of their chances, and they haven't been called up frequently as a result.
Perhaps the most interesting battle to watch will be in goal. Brad Guzan and Tim Howard have not traveled with the squad, and instead, Klinsmann has opted to go with three relatively new faces.
The youngest—and only player of the three without a cap—is Ethan Horvath, a promising talent who has been a favourite of scouts for years. The 21-year-old plies his trade in Norway with Molde, where he has stood out for his size and reflexes.
Here's a look at some of his highlights:
He'll battle David Bingham and William Yarbrough for minutes―meaning Bill Hamid is once again left out.
Cuba have experimented with their squad in the last few months, using Arichell Hernandez as a false nine and moving Maykel Reyes out wide, where he plays for his club, Cruz Azul.
The hosts shouldn't trouble the Stars and Stripes too much, and this friendly will not serve as a confidence-booster; this is a chance for Klinsmann to have a look at his fringe players and finalise his squad.
Expect plenty of player turnover during the match, with the final result of little significance.
Prediction: Cuba 1-3 USA