October 4, 2016
NOT PRETTY, BUT EFFECTIVE
Repost from 2008: U.S. stops Cuba in WCQ, 1-0
This story originally was posted on Sept. 6, 2008.
|Clint Dempsey's goal gave the U.S. its first win on Cuban soil.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis
HAVANA -- The U.S. national team realized this World Cup qualifier was going to be a different one than many of the others they have participated in over the years.
After all, it was a rare opportunity to visit and play in Cuba, which one player dubbed a "mythical" place. They hadn't performed here in some 61 years.
The crowd actually cheered the U.S. players during pre-game introductions. After Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal of the 1-0 game, goalkeeper Tim Howard was forced to preserve the victory by knocking away a potential own goal off a deflection by the team captain.
The Americans managed to live to tell about it, leaving Estadio Pedro Marrero with three points as they won a record third consecutive qualifying match. The three scores were all by 1-0, wins over Barbados and Guatemala (Aug. 20).
The win, while certainly not a pretty result in the CONCACAF Group 1 semifinal encounter, kept the Americans (2-0) on track to reach next year's final round of qualifying by winning both of their first two road matches. They host Trinidad & Tobago in Bridgeview, Ill. Wednesday.
"It wasn't much soccer played in either game," U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "Obviously two road games, two wins. You can't get much better than that."
The Cubans (0-2), however, moved a step closer to elimination as they face an uphill battle after losing two consecutive home games. They hit the road in Guatemala Wednesday.
They can thank Dempsey for part of that. He struck in the 40th minute. Defender Oguchi Onyewu sent the ball in from the right side to Dempsey, who had two defenders on him. Cuba's Carlos Francisco got the ball, but headed it off Dempsey and it went to Brian Ching. Ching dumped the ball off to Dempsey, who then fired a 12-yard shot into the lower left corner past goalkeeper Odelin Molina for the goal before an estimated crowd of 10,000.
"Brian Ching did a good job holding the ball up and laying it off to me," Dempsey said. "I tried to get a good first touch to open myself up to the goal and just hit it hard and low to the near post. That was a difficult one for the keeper to save."
Howard, a former MetroStar, made a diving, one-handed save to his right on a deflection off of defender Carlos Bocanegra, who was trying to clear a dangerous ball into the area in the 87th minute.
"It just got headed back in and I half went to clear it," said Bocanegra, who said the ball hit off his leg or shin. "It just skipped up on me. . . I stopped and I was in-between it. It went for the goal and Timmy made an unbelievable recovery."
Added Howard: "We got away with it."
Saturday night's match was historic because the Americans were playing in Cuba for the first time since 1947, when they suffered a 5-2 loss.
While there was some concern that the crowd would be hostile, the crowd actually cheered the U.S. during pre-game introductions, although the PA announcer mistakenly called Maurice Edu Freddy Adu. Adu was not with the team.
"Definitely a surprise," Dempsey said of the cheering. "We never experienced that, sometimes even playing at home."
In fact, many spectators started to file out in the 78th minute, obviously disappointed with their team. After referee Joel Antonio Aguilar called the game, the U.S. players appeared to be applauding the Cuban fans, who returned the praised. However, it wasn't as it seemed.
"There was just an American flag and some people there," forward Landon Donovan said. "We were just applauding them."
Due to severe travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, American soccer fans were few and far between. If any were at the game, it was because they were on special business here or entered the country in violation of the U.S. government. At least three Americans did make it down, although they apparently did it illegally since their faces were masked by red, white and blue flags to hide their identities. They also had an American flag draped around their shoulders with a green Cuban hat with a mini-flag on it.
The quality of the game certainly wasn't helped by a field that had a good two hours of rain dumped on it prior to the match and for most of the second half.
Both teams did not have very many chances. The Americans, heavily favored entering the match, did not produce very many dangerous opportunities. Their lack of offense allowed the Cubans to stay close. The opportunistic play of Roberto Linares and
Jensee Munoz gave the hosts the ball in the attacking third, but they couldn't solve Howard.
"They actually played well," Donovan said. "They were a better team than what we thought they were. . . . They did a pretty good job of making it hard on us."
"I don't think they ever took the chances to get back in the game.
Added Bocanegra: "They got tired towards the end."