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McBride’s penalty kick drops outclassed Cuba 1-0, earns berth in Gold Cup quarterfinals.

Gold Cup standings, results

U.S.-Cuba analysis

Americans accomplished their Gold Cup quarterfinal destination, but their trip was hardly stylish.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

PASADENA, Calif. (Monday January 21, 2002) ­- The United States accomplished one of its goals when it advanced from preliminary group play to the Gold Cup quarterfinals, but U.S. coach Bruce Arena hardly can be thrilled with what he’s seen at the Rose Bowl.

Sure, the Americans have come away with two victories in three days, but they were narrow ones at that. Only Damarcus Beasley’s strike in the final seconds of stoppage time allowed the U.S to defeat South Korea 2-1 on Saturday, but at least the Koreans were fairly skilled. Today, all the Americans could produce was Brian McBride’s penalty kick in the 21st minute for a narrow 1-0 decision over Cuba, a team the U.S. probably should have defeated by three or four goals without breaking much of a sweat.

"I'm not displeased," Arena said. "Could we play better? Yes. It was difficult match. The Cubans fought hard and we didn't do so well with our chances."

At least Arena got a chance to use 17 of the 18 players on his roster in winning Group B and a Sunday quarterfinal date with the Group A runnerup. The winner of Wednesday’meeting between El Salvador and Guatemala will be the next U.S. opponent at the Rose Bowl. If the game ends tied, the U.S. will face El Salvador.

The U.S. created numerous chances today and seemed to be a class above Cuba, but was betrayed by its finishing. The Cubans started out frantically and physically, but after about 10 minutes, the match settled down and the U.S. established dominance and control until well into the second half.

In the late moments, the Americans clearly slowed down, allowing Cuba a brief run, but U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller made his second save for the day and victory was preserved.

South Korea was a much faster, individually-skilled and more cohesive team than Cuba, but the U.S. also looked stronger than Saturday by making four changes to the starting lineup. Josh Wolff replaced Ante Razov on the front line, Beasley and Cobi Jones took over for Many Lagos and Eddie Lewis in the midfield while Pablo Mastroeni replaced Danny Califf on defense.

How great a degree the new starters’ effectiveness can be attributed to Cuba’s ineffectiveness is a question that can only be answered against better competition later in this tournament.

"I thought we played better today than we did against Korea," defender Jeff Agoos said. "We were more organized, we created chances, but we have to finish better."

Even with the changes, six U.S. players -- Keller, Agoos, defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Frankie Hejduk, midfielder Chris Armas, and McBride -- went the full 90 minutes twice in three days and fatigue became a factor in the second half today.

"I got tired at times out there, especially towards the end, but overall I felt pretty good," said McBride, who is coming off a long layoff because of injury. "It’s good to get a couple of matches like these behind you. They may not have been pretty wins, but they were wins and now we’ll go on in this tournament.

Arena cited McBride, his 19-year-old midfielders Beasley and Donovan, and Armas for standout play, and mentioned that more adjustments will be made. "We need to find a better partner for McBride on top, and we need to get better on our defense, but I’m certainly not unhappy with how things have gone here," Arena said.

"McBride has had two decent games and played well today. I thought Armas has played well. I think Beasley and Donovan have done quite well. I think Cobi Jones had a good performance in these two games. . . We need to get a little better in our defense. Obviously, Keller is solid. I thought Richie Williams played well in his 30 minutes. It is good to see those things. What we are looking for in this tournament is to narrow down our pool of players as we get closer to (the World Cup in) May. It has been helpful. Obviously, I'm not going to be publicly critical of any players, but we are able to evaluate in those two games where some of our players stand."

Player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller ­ 6: Little to do, but was always in position and steady as always.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 5.5: With better cover then he had on Saturday, turned in a fine performance.

Defender Pablo Mastroeni - 5.5: Paired well with Agoos, played within himself, not trying to push forward too often. Certainly helped himself in trying to make team.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra ­ 5: No glaring errors, but not a terribly impressive performance despite obvious effort.

Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 4.5: Never really into the match. Doesn’t seem to be the player he was two years ago.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 6.5: Game in and game out, he is one of the most dependable U.S. players.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6: Would have been "Player of the Match" had he finished one or two of his chances.

Midfielder Cobi Jones - 5: High energy and great effort, but lacking results. Matches like this might relegate him to a reserve role for 20-to-30-minute spurts off the bench.

Midfielder Landon Donovan ­ 5: Looked tired. Had several opportunities that he should have converted into goals.

Forward Josh Wolff ­ 5: Added a great deal of energy to the U.S. front line, but his finishing was woeful.

Forward Brian McBride ­ 6: Although he said he did not tire, he looked like he lost his legs for long portions of the match. Still, he looks like one of the few true American forwards despite playing only two matches following his long injury layoff.

Reserves

Midfielder Richie Williams (55th minute for Donovan) - 5.5: Solid defensively, especially between the 70th and 80th minutes when Cuba’s attack seemed to catch a second wind.

Forward Jeff Cunningham (66th minute for Wolff) ­ 4.5: Some fine individual play, but lacked any cohesion with his teammates.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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