United States Men’s National Team begin their first CONCACAF Nations League soccer campaign at home to Cuba at Audi Field in Washington, DC on Friday (7pm ET, live on Fox Sports 1 and Unimas).
The CONCACAF Nations League isn’t quite as byzantine in structure as it’s UEFA counterpart and will act as a direct qualifying tournament for the 2021 Gold Cup. The United States have always had an automatic Gold Cup spot but this time they will have to qualify.
That should prove easy enough. While for the region’s smaller teams, the Nations League provides a valuable supply of regular matches that they might otherwise have struggled to organize or afford, it is likely to be a formality for the top-seeded League A teams like Team USA. They only need to finish in the top two in a three-team group to qualify.
That task is made easier by the presence of Cuba alongside USMNT and Canada in Group A. These are teams ranked 147th in the world and 17th in CONCACAF by the ELO Ratings system and 178th in the world and 25th in CONCACAF by the FIFA rankings. Cuba were beaten 0-6 away and 0-1 at home by Canada in the two matches played in this group to date.
Cuba have been on a downward spiral in terms of rankings since 2015 and travel to the U.S. on the back of losing their last six matches by a combined score of 1-24. It is not only on the pitch where they’ve had problems. Five of their players defected following their away loss to Canada last month to bring the yearly total to 14. They were forced to play the return match in the Cayman Islands after FIFA refused to sanction their home stadium for use.
There is little for the United States and coach Gregg Berhalter to worry about in terms of the opposition on Friday. As has been the case in all of the friendlies they have played since his appointment at the start of the year, and indeed to a degree at the Gold Cup over the summer, the primary focus will be on developing and refining the template of possession-based football. Berhalter hopes that will produce good results as this World Cup cycle unfolds.
Berhalter’s preferred squad is starting to take shape. Of the players included in his 26-man group for this match and the one away to Canada on Tuesday of next week, Aaron Long, Cristian Roldan, Daniel Lotivz, Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, Tim Ream and Zack Steffen have all made 10 or more appearances across his 14 matches in charge. Arriola, a winger for DC United, will get the opportunity to play at his home stadium on Friday.
There are few surprises in Berhalter’s selection. DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Miazga return to the squad after injury, while the Philadelphia Union’s 18-year-old midfielder Brenden Aaronsen is the only uncapped player in the group. The coach is betting on a largely stable group of players to which he can add any that begin to stand out over the next couple of years.
It is very difficult to judge Berhalter’s work to date. In his only competitive action, his side met expectations by making it through to the final of the Gold Cup before losing to Mexico. Otherwise it much depends on how much weight you wish to assign to the results of friendlies. USMNT lost 0-3 to Mexico and drew 1-1 against Uruguay in their two most recent friendlies last month and have failed to win any of their last five fixtures of that kind.
Our Preview’s USMNT vs Cuba Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
Even with the goal of recovering from the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in order to make it to the next one in Qatar in 2022, the US are still one of the strongest teams in CONCACAF. So USA should have no problems seeing off a poor Cuban side. It may be a slightly weakened team with next week’s encounter with Canada in mind, but the U.S. should seal a comfortable victory.
If you are looking to make an investment with one of the trusted U.S legal sportsbooks, there are no odds available at the time of writing but we expect a wide-margin victory for the home team. When the betting markets open for this game, maybe look for United States -3.5 goals.