When the US Men’s National Team takes on Cuba’s National Team today in Havana, it will be only the 3rd such meeting in Cuba between the two teams in 70 years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been more than a little antagonistic since the communist revolution of 1959 froze out American capitalist dogs and turned the car into a utopia for classic car fetishists.
In the course of the last few years, the ice has finally been broken, and the thaw between the two countries is happening. Whereas in 2008 only the ‘Cuba Cinco’ were there to cheer on the Yanks in the 2nd of 3 games in a 70 year span, today there will be a full contingent of the American Outlaws there for a friendly (please don’t ruin the detente before I get a chance to get to Havana). The Yanks will follow this up with a match against New Zealand on Tuesday in Washington D.C. Here’s some quick notes on the October international break:
Prepping for the Hex:
The friendlies today mark the last matches before the US begins the final round of qualifying for World Cup 2018. Even if the opponents this month aren’t particularly intimidating, the US starts qualifying with the other two teams favored to qualify for Russia when they take on Mexico in Columbus and Costa Rica at their place. The US has built some momentum via a strong 4th place finish in the Copa America and breezing through Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago to make the Hex. A couple of assured wins should help keep the ball rolling into the 2 big games next month.
Building the core for 2018:
Here’s the roster for this week.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
DEFENDERS (7): Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Danny Williams (Reading)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)
One problem Jurgen Klinsmann has wrestled with but never fully addressed was the aging core of his team. Injuries/health issues for Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey have somewhat forced his hand, and the early returns so far have been promising.
Christian Pulisic has been a joy to watch, and he bagged 2 goals and 2 assists to close out semifinal qualifying. U20 alum Paul Arriola notched his 2nd international goal in as many caps. Clint Dempsey was barely missed.
Sacha Kjlestan put together his most impressive two game run in a US shirt with Jermaine Jones ailing, and even though the competition wasn’t of the highest ilk, he was extremely productive (also 2G and 2A), and things seemed to click in a way with him on the field that hadn’t in previous caps.
Although at 31, Kjlestan can hardly be seen as part of the future wave, it doesn’t seem impossible that he could make the roster for Russia 2018 any more. Further, he’s one of only 4 players on this roster over the age of 28. Also, outside of Arriola, Perry Kitchen, Lynden Gooch (looking for his first cap), and 3 goalkeepers angling to break the Guzan-Howard duopoly, everyone on the roster has more than 5 caps. In a matter of months, the team has gone from having several large looming questions to having several potentially exciting and long-term answers.
How it affects FC Dallas:
Kellyn Acosta did not make the roster which I think reflects more on where his club is in the season than his form or his pecking order with the Nats. He’s still on the boundary for the roster, and Klinsmann seems to really like him.
The bigger effect on FC Dallas is not who we kept, but who Colorado did. With all 3 of the goalkeepers not being named Tim Howard, Rapids got to keep their 1st choice keeper through the break. Colorado actually plays 2 games during the break, and while Zac McMath was pretty good this year between the sticks, Howard still serves as an upgrade at that position. Combine that with the fact that Skhelzen Gashi was not called into the Albanian National Team, and it would seem (on paper) that FCD’s chances to win the Supporters’ Shield just took a hit. Get your hot vomit orange pom poms ready for Dynamo on Saturday night, folks.
How to watch
Date: Friday, October 7, 2016 - 3pm CT
Location: Estadio Pedro Marrero, Havana, Cuba
TV: ESPN2, UniMás