September 6, 2008
By Michael Lewis
Dempsey's goal lifts U.S. over Cuba
HAVANA, Cuba -- Clint Dempsey scored in the 40th minute to boost the United States to a 1-0 victory over Cuba in a World Cup qualifying match Saturday night.
|Clint Dempsey's goal gave the U.S. its first-ever win on Cuban soil.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The win 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 (the first was a 1-0 win in Guatemala). They host Trinidad & Tobago in Bridgeview, Ill. Wednesday. The Cubans (0-2), however, face an uphill battle after losing two consecutive home games.
Dempsey gave the U.S. all the scoring it needed in the 40th minute. Defender Oguchi Onyewu sent a pass 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 Odelin Molina for the goal.
Saturday's match was historic because the Americans were playing in Cuba for the first time since 1947, when they suffered 5-0 and 5-2 losses.
While there was some concern that the crowd would be hostile, in many respects it was a typical Caribbean or Latin American match for the U.S. When they took the field, the Americans were greeted by whistles or boos, which is typical in soccer. The crowd never got close to any violence during the match.
In fact, many spectators started to file out in the 78th minute, obviously disappointed with their team.
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. goverment. At least three Americans did make it down, although they apparently did it illegally since their faces were masked by red, white and blue 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.
They posed for photos for the U.S. media before venturing to their seats.
Both teams were hampered by rain, which started a good 2 1/2 hours prior to the opening kickoff and last through most of the first half.
Helped by the slippery field, the Cubans held their own in the opening half hour. Unsure footing hurt the faster U.S. attackers, particularly DaMarcus Beasley.
Dempsey had the Americans' best chances, on a roller from the top right of the penalty area in the 15th minute and a 16-yard errant shot that sailed way wide right in the 24th minute.
Finally, Dempsey's efforts came to fruition in the 40th minute.
Forward Landon Donovan was not much of a factor.
Onyewu did manage to put the ball into the back of the net in the seventh minute, only after crashing into Molina as he was called for a foul.