The USA U-23s can assure themselves of a place in the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with a win over Cuba, having bested Canada - 3-1 in their opening match. Six points will guarantee a top-two finish, since it will restrict Cuba's maximum points total to four, and because Canada and Panama cannot both win the two games they have remaining in the group stage.
The young Americans will also have the advantage of knowing exactly what has happened between Canada and Panama before this match against Cuba kicks off: the presumed contenders for the Group A runner-up spot will kick-off at 2:30 pm, Eastern, on October 3; USA vs Cuba follows at 5:00 pm.
For Matt Miazga and the US squad, the priority of the group stage must be to win the group and therefore hope to avoid running into Mexico (the presumptive winner of Group B) until the tournament final - by which stage, Olympic qualification will be assured (both finalists claim berths in the Rio 2016 men's soccer competition).
If results go the USA's way - say, a draw between Canada and Panama paired with a win for the US over Cuba - the group could be won today. This would be helpful for Andi Herzog, who has a small squad to try to coax through what is expected to be five games in 14 days. Consequently, though Cuba is arguably the weakest opponent in the group, this is not the game to rest first-choice players. Three points in this match could allow Herzog the luxury of rotating his squad without fear of real consequence for the group finale against Panama.
It is also probably a bad idea to rest players in this match because Cuba defied expectations by very nearly beating Panama in the opening game of the tournament. Those expectations were low to start with, and got lower when it was announced the Cubans had suffered four defections from their 20-man squad: defender Yendry Torres and forward Frank Lopez (both members of the Cuba U-20 squad that competed in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship earlier this year), and midfielders Emmanuel Labrada and Dayron Perez.
Any further defections could challenge Cuba's ability to field a team, but - for now, at least - the squad still has Maykel Reyes, the man who scored the senior men's national team's only goal of the 2015 Gold Cup to put Los Leones del Caribe in the quarterfinals of that tournament. And he is the man who gave Cuba an unexpected lead in its opening game of this competition by the simple tactic of pressuring Panama's 'keeper.
Panama had plenty of chances to score - ultimately equalizing in the 76th minute. But Cuba got out of its opening match with a point, and having made a strong case to the rest of the group that it will trouble a complacent opponent.