Three thoughts on the U.S. national team's 4-1 triumph over Cuba in Saturday's CONCACAF Gold Cup group C game at Rio Tinto Stadium, which clinched a berth in next weekend's quarterfinals:
The U.S. faces some welcome adversity -- Big, easy wins make for a good time but aren't necessarily ideal when preparing a team for the Gold Cup knockout rounds or when evaluating new talent ahead of September's World Cup qualifiers.
After last week's 6-0 cakewalk over Guatemala and Tuesday's 6-1 rout of Belize in the Gold Cup opener, the U.S. endured a few rough moments on Saturday.
Cuba's rugged approach, speed on the counter and 36th-minute game-leading goal knocked the U.S. off balance. Recapturing that momentum would be the first real challenge this particular group of players faced.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann aided the cause with smart substitutions (both Brek Shea and Stuart Holden were slowing down the side), while the defense kept a closer eye on Cuban speedster Ariel Martínez. The U.S. eventually was able to move the ball more quickly. Individual composure and quality then made the difference.
The win might have been inevitable, but having to solve problems during the course of a game and maintain focus while trailing a physical opponent should help this group down the road.
Brek needs a break -- Not the rest and relaxation kind of break, the good fortune kind of break. Brek Shea was a late addition to the Gold Cup roster following Josh Gatt's withdrawal and got his first national team start in more than 16 months at Rio Tinto.
Klinsmann had no choice but to replace Shea after a miserable first half, which featured passes played out of bounds, crosses sent over the goal and an opening 30 minutes that looked like the one-time MLS MVP finalist forgot to set his alarm. His lack of chemistry with left back Edgar Castillo also caused headaches. Shea is a player whose creativity and daring play has always intrigued Klinsmann, but months on the bench at Stoke City appears to have sapped the Texan's timing and confidence.
He might be better off leaving U.S. camp and returning immediately to the Britannia Stadium, where new Stoke coach Mark Hughes likely holds the key to Shea's World Cup prospects. He needs to play.
Wonderful 'Wondowlowski' -- The extra 'W' could be for 'World Cup'. The San Jose Earthquakes' marksman failed to score in his first nine U.S. matches and many figured his chance to challenge for a spot on Klinsmann's 'A' team had vanished. But the manager gave Chris Wondolowski one more opportunity -- surely his last -- and he's capitalized with six goals in three games. He tallied the Americans' third and fourth on Saturday.
Following his hat trick against Belize, it was discovered that Wondolowski's name was misspelled 'Wondowlowski' on his jersey. He asked the U.S. equipment manager to sew an extra 'W' on the inside for good luck, and the talisman appears to have done the job.
Wondolowski's 67 goals over the past three-plus MLS seasons are no accident. He reads the game brilliantly and is a master at finding space inside an opponent's penalty area. Chances come as a result, and it was only a matter of time before Wondolowski started finishing them. He may not displace the likes of Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey in Klinsmann's first-choice 11, but if the U.S. needs a goal with 15 minutes to go next summer in Brazil, "WondoW" could be the ideal player to bring off the bench. His emergence complicates Klinsmann's choices up front, where Donovan, Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson could be vying for spots on the World Cup roster.