The United States faces Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, in Baltimore. The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals after winning Group A with seven points. Cuba snuck into the knockout rounds as the second best third place team in the tournament (tied with Panama on points, but with a worse goal differential).
In group play, Cuba lost 6-0 to Mexico, 3-0 to Trinidad and Tobago and defeated Guatemala 1-0. As usual Cuba had to overcome adversity. Head coach Raul Gonzalez Triana along with five players missed Cuba's opening match against Mexico due to visa issues.
Additionally, midfielder Arael Arguellez and forward Keilen Garcia both defected and midfielders Dario Suarez and Aricheel Hernandez disappeared before Wednesday's game against Guatemala having likely defected.
Cuba is somewhat of an unknown as all of their players ply their trade in the Cuban league and statistics for this league are unavailable. The Cubans are clear underdogs against the Americans and they will need veteran midfielders Yenier Marquez (126 caps and 15 goals) and Ariel Martinez (54 caps and 11 goals) to play well in order to have any chance of winning.
Maikel Reyes will also be a key player for Cuba as he scored the team's only goal of the tournament. The Cuban defense will need to play much better as it conceded nine goals in Group C and will have its hands full against the U.S.' talented attackers.
The USMNT should dominate Cuba, as they are the weakest team the U.S. will face all tournament. However, the U.S. was unimpressive against, Haiti and Honduras, two teams it was expected to easily defeat.
Jurgen Klinsmann will be looking for a blowout victory in this match. If the U.S. offense starts firing on all cylinders this could get ugly. A win by a large margin would give the USMNT the momentum and confidence it needs heading into a challenging semifinal against the winner of Haiti v. Jamaica.
Expect the U.S. attack to play up to its potential and look more like the dominant force that scored four against the Netherlands. While the U.S. would still be expected to win the match with reserves, Jurgen Klinsmann will probably field a strong starting lineup. Look for Michael Bradley to up his play as he has been disappointing so far. He has simply been average and is capable of playing much better.
Of the three replacement players Klinsmann called into the squad, the only one who may start is DaMarcus Beasley. However, Fabian Johnson will probably get the nod at left-back over Beasley.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is expected to start, although that will depend on his fitness. He certainly appeared to be less than 100% match fit against Panama and if he isn't ready to go, DeAndre Yedlin would likely take his place.
Timmy Chandler has been awful at right-back and its possible Beasley replaces him. Another way to replace Chandler would be to shift Johnson to right-back and start Beasley at left-back. However, Klinsmann seems to think highly of Chandler so its more likely than not that he starts.
Expect the U.S. to easily win this match. If the U.S. doesn't dominate Cuba then Klinsmann will have some serious questions to answer. Its amazing Cuba got this far, but I predict its tournament run ends and the USMNT wins 4-0.