Cuba was outmanned. Then undermanned. In the end, it was just manhandled as the U.S. cruised to a 6-0 win in both teams' opening game of the Olympic qualifying tournament at LP Field Thursday night.
The Americans scored four goals before halftime without reply, and midfielder Joe Corona had a hat trick as the U.S. was aided greatly by a straight red card on Cuba in the 19th minute.
"Obviously, we were pleased with the strong start. But we're not satisfied with the performance," coach Caleb Porter said, trying to tamp down expectations for his talented squad.
The U.S. will face Canada in the second group game on Saturday.
The first goal came from a 40-yard free kick by Freddy Adu, which the Cuban keeper punched from the top of the 6-yard box straight at Corona. The Club Tijuana player calmly chested it down and buried it in the 11th minute.
"We knew when we got that first goal it was going to open up," Adu said after captaining the squad for the first time. "We were timid and a little nervous for the first 15 or 20 minutes. Then we settled down."
Corona nearly doubled his total in the 26th minute, narrowly missing a header wide off of a cross from Adu.
Cuba had difficulty getting the ball across the half-line for much of the first half, with U.S. goalkeeper Bill Hamid not even touching the ball until the 10th minute. The task was made that much harder by a 19th minute red card when Dario Macias struck Juan Agudelo with his elbow. Mexican referee Roberto Garcia didn't hesitate to eject Macias and like that, the Cubans were down to 10 men.
Agudelo doubled the U.S. lead in the 37th minute when he got onto the end of a Brek Shea cross, thundering home with his head, unmarked in the box. Two minutes later Corona drilled his second, this time assisted by Diskerud, and the game was effectively over. When Shea's cross to Agudelo found the leg of a Cuban defender and turned into an own goal for a 4-0 lead, the rout was on.
Adu made it 5-0 in the 62nd minute, with a highlight reel goal from the top of the box, settling the ball with his right foot before slamming it into the left corner. It was his fifth goal in Olympic qualifying and his second all-time against Cuba. Corona sealed his hat trick in the 88th minute.
For Porter and the U.S., not a lot was learned from the game. The Americans were the more talented side coming in and the loss of a player for Cuba gave them a lopsided advantage in possession. Agudelo came out at the half and Shea soon after that as they attempted to rest some key players before tougher matches against Canada and El Salvador.
"We want to be smart. We've got three subs and we were up 4-0," he said. "(Agudelo) took a knock and we didn't want to take any risks.
US: Hamid; Sarkodie, Opara, Kitchen, Valentin; Jeffrey (Okugo, 62'), Diskerud, Corona; Adu, Shea (Gyau, 57'), Agudelo (Bunbury, 46')
Cuba: Cooper; Francisco, Salazar, Macias, Malblanche, Martinez, Farinas (Pe, 24'), Chang, Hernandez (Pena, 68'), Cordoves, Blanco
US goals: Corona (11', 40', 88'), Agudelo (37'), Adu (62')
Cuba goals: Pe (own goal, 43')
• Following the senior men's team's lead, the U.S. came out in kits without names on the back and with the starters wearing numbers 1-11. Joe Corona, starting in an attacking midfield slot, wore No. 10.
• The U.S. played in Porter's preferred 4-3-3 system, with Agudelo acting as a lone striker between Shea and Adu on the wings. Joe Corona reprised his attacking midfielder role from the 2-0 friendly win over Mexico.
• Cuba's first shot on goal came at the 43:45 mark, a shot which Bill Hamid saved easily. It was his only save of the game
• The U.S. outshot Cuba 17-4 and put 7 shots on goal to Cuba's 1.
• In the first game of the doubleheader, Canada and El Salvador tied 0-0. El Salvador dominated possession, but was never able to take a lead. Canada picked up three yellow cards in the match, which may affect their lineup in Saturday's game against the U.S. They will be heavy underdogs and could look to save players for what will be a must-win match against Cuba on Monday.
• MLS was well represented, providing eight of the 11 U.S. starters. The entire starting midfield, though, hailed from foreign leagues: Corona (Club Tijuana), Diskerud (Gent) and Jeffrey (Mainz). Porter settled on that group during a set of friendlies in Costa Rica a few months ago and it's paid dividends.
• It was the biggest U.S. U-23 win since a 7-0 win over Panama in 1991.
• Paid attendance was 4,269.