Foreign country. Familiar result.
Team USA came to Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Tuesday night and delivered a commanding performance in a 4-0 victory over Cuba in the CONCACAF Nations League.
The favourites led literally from the first minute thanks to an early goal from Josh Sargent, and its supporters group, The American Outlaws, filled the stadium with energy and enthusiasm.
“Thank you, Cayman,” the group sang late in the second half as the game came to a close.
The match, held in Cayman due to stadium renovations in Cuba, gave the USA men’s national team a victory in Group A and an automatic qualification for the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. That result came after last month’s nadir, when USA lost to Team Canada for the first time in 34 years.
That loss led to some introspection for Team USA, but, more importantly, it produced an ultimatum: Win the next two games or allow Canada to come out top of the group. USA proved up to the challenge, and edged Canada on goal differential to win the group.
“I think it’s an important step for the group to deal with pressure and have to respond, to have to come out and win two games and then do it,” said Team USA coach Gregg Berhalter of his squad’s achievement after experiencing adversity. “I think it’s an important step for this group’s mentality.”
Team USA was all business on Tuesday night, and Sargent took advantage of a scramble in the box to score the game’s first goal. Twenty-five minutes later, Weston McKennie found Jordan Morris with a flick-on header, and Morris dribbled into the box and beat the goalie with a right-footed finish.
Morris didn’t stop there; just before halftime, he scored from the goalmouth. The play developed off a corner kick, with defender Aaron Long trying to feed it to Morris. But the attempt was blocked, and Long then chipped the ball over the goalie’s head to allow Morris an easy finish.
“It was a good performance,” said Morris, a forward for the Seattle Sounders in the MLS. “I think starting out as quick as we did was really important. These games are never going to be easy. Sometimes, the circumstances are tough. I thought we had a really good mentality coming out fast.”
Sargent scored again late in the second half to give the USA a 4-0 lead, and Cuba could never really get back in the game. Team USA scored 15 goals and allowed just three over the four-game Nations League schedule. Canada, by contrast, scored 10 goals and allowed four.
Cuba, which will be relegated to Nations League B, did not score in any of its matches, while conceding 18 goals overall.
Long, of the USA side, said he was thrilled with the effort his team had shown on Tuesday night.
“We grew a lot together,” he said. “We grew into the style. We learned how to adapt to different games. We learned how to play on the road. There’s a lot of things for this group that were a first this year. We took it in stride. We had a lot of ups and a lot of downs but overall we’re really happy.”
Playing in Cayman was yet another first for many of the players, but Berhalter said the unexpected destination was a positive and an echo of what he’s been preaching to his team.
“It’s interesting,” said Berhalter of playing in Cayman against the Cuban national team. “What we talk about is dealing with whatever happens and dealing with any circumstance. This was just something we had to deal with. Cayman is a beautiful place to visit and we’re lucky to be here.”