For the first time since 1947, the United States Men’s Soccer Team traveled to the capital city of Havana for a friendly against Cuba.
That match, 68 years ago, was a 5-2 Cuban victory. This time, with the help of super-sub Chris Wondolowski, the United States were able to come away with the victory.
On a field with as many bumps as blades of grass, both teams struggled early to create chances. After 45 minutes, tied 0-0, neither team had looked very threatening in front of goal.
Due to the less-than-adequate playing conditions, the U.S. frequently found themselves bypassing the midfield when building up play, opting more long balls through the air. Consequently, as one might expect, the U.S.’ first half chances were few and far between.
In the 56th minute, after a wasteful chance from U.S. midfielder Julian Green, Cuba had their first quality chance of the game. Green’s dispossessing led to a Cuban counter, which saw Maikel Reyes hit the inside of the near post from about 10 yards away.
For a majority of the game, with the battered pitch mostly to blame, a 0-0 draw looked almost certain for the Stars and Stripes.
Then, in the 62nd minute, off of a parried save from a Julian Green strike, half-time substitute Chris Wondolowski was able to find the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Nearly ten minutes later, Wondolowski was again involved in another U.S. goal.
After a perfectly weighted over-the-head through ball from fellow substitute Daniel Williams, the San Jose striker found himself one on one with Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sánchez.
Instead of trying for his brace, Wondolowski elected to pass the ball across goal, finding Julian Green for the easy tap in to make it 2-0 for the United States.
The score would stay that way for the remainder of the match, as twenty-one year old U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, making first ever U.S. senior cap, was able to secure the clean sheet in the win.
Although classified as a friendly, this match was not without the occasional rough play.
In the 81st minute, with Cuba desperate to find the scoresheet, Cuba substitute Duxney Espinosa made dangerous contact with U.S. defender Steve Birnbaum. The incident appeared to be a high kick to Birnbaum’s face, but no foul was given.
Thankfully, after a few minutes of medical attention on the field, the D.C. United defender was able leave under his own power.
Up next for the United States is another friendly, this time against New Zealand. The match will take place on Tuesday, October 11 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.