Updated 4h 8m ago
By Beau Dure, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — While one heralded new generation watched from the bench,
the stars of a previous generation — still nowhere near retirement age —
made sure their World Cup qualifying run would continue until next year.
Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, well-known to U.S. soccer fans
since their youth days, ignited the U.S. attack Saturday in a 6-1 win
over Cuba, clinching a spot in the final round of World Cup qualifying
before 20,293 fans in RFK Stadium.
The Cuban team, already outmanned after the disappearance of two players
Friday, couldn't contain Donovan's piercing passes. He set up Clint
Dempsey and Michael Bradley in the first six minutes of the game, but
their chances were squandered.
Beasley made no mistake in the 10th minute, beautifully timing his run
to take a through ball from Sacha Kljestan and fire a one-timer into the
While Cuba struggled to string passes together, Beasley doubled the lead
in the 32nd minute, settling a Donovan cross off his chest and slotting
"Beas was active, was all over the place, so he was easy to find for all
of us," Donovan said.
The USA lost focus after the second goal, and it was enough to give Cuba
an unlikely moment of brilliance a minute later. Michael Bradley gave up
the ball 25 yards out to Jenzy Munoz, who deftly chipped it over Tim
Howard into the top of the goal.
"I tried to close the angle like I normally would do," Howard said. "It
was a weird shot that it got up and down so quickly."
Late in the half, though, Cuba suffered another setback as Yoel Colome
hacked down Donovan at midfield. He earned a yellow card, his second of
the game, and was sent off. Down to 10 men, Cuba posed no threat the
rest of the way.
Three minutes after the intermission, the U.S. midfield cast a web of
short passes through the Cuban defense, eventually working the ball out
left to overlapping back Heath Pearce. His cross found Donovan all alone
for the tap-in.
"We knew that we had a little letdown after we scored the second goal.
But we still felt that we had done a lot of good things," U.S. coach Bob
Bradley said, "We felt strongly about coming out in the second half and
establishing control. The goal early in the second half was a good
succession of passes and good movement."
Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina did his best to keep the score close with
some remarkable saves on Dempsey and Beasley. But three U.S. players
were all alone in front of the goal after Kljestan's header redirected
Beasley's 63rd-minute free kick toward the net, and Brian Ching nodded
in the ball for a 4-1 lead.
"They sat back, which made it difficult for us to pull them apart,"
Howard said. "They pulled in to the center of the field. So we had to be
cautious, but I think the end result was good."
With the lead secure, coach Bob Bradley put in the next generation.
Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, like 26-year-olds Beasley and Donovan,
have had success at youth level and became productive pros in their late
Donovan was the Golden Ball winner and Beasley the Silver Ball winner at
the 1999 Under-17 world championships, and both played key roles in the
USA's 2002 World Cup run. Adu has had a glittering record at all youth
levels, including the Olympics this summer, and Altidore burst onto the
scene with some strong goals in MLS.
Entering the game with Adu (19 years old) and Altidore (18) was Jose
Francisco Torres, a 20-year-old Texan who came up through Mexican club
Pachuca. With his appearance, he officially pledged his international
future to the United States rather than Mexico.
"We're very excited he chose to play for the United States," Bradley
said. "It was a decision for him that I don't think would be easy. From
the day he got here, he seemed very excited and comfortable with the guys."
The next generation added to the final score. Altidore accounted for the
fifth goal, fighting off a defender in the box and putting a low shot
past Molina in the 87th minute. Then defender Oguchi Onyewu, playing not
far from his hometown of Olney, Md., crashed into the box to head home a
cross from Adu, who also grew up in the area and started his pro career
with D.C. United.
"The fans were absolutely amazing," Adu said. "Best fans in MLS,
hands-down. I just stood there, and I almost cried, hearing the crowd
chanting my name. I really appreciate that."
The U.S. team has won all four of its semifinal games and cannot finish
lower than second in the group. The top two teams in the group, which
also includes Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago, advance to the six-team
final round next year. The top three teams from that group advance to
the World Cup; the fourth-place team will be in a playoff.
"It's never easy," Donovan said. "The last couple of games (at home) may
have appeared that way, but the bulk of the work was done the first two
games (away at Guatemala and Cuba), and that was difficult."
Now the USA can head to Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday with no
pressure. Bradley said he might change up the roster, but he wasn't
committing to an experimental lineup against a team that will be
fighting for its qualifying future.
"You try to find a balance to make sure things that are developing and
growing can continue," Bradley said.