By Dylan Butler
SANDY, Utah – Renay Malblanche doesn’t know Landon Donovan from DaMarcus Beasley and he said he isn’t familiar with the United States National Team.
But what the Cuban defender does know is that his team enters Saturday’s Group C match in the CONCACAF Gold Cup against the U.S. at Rio Tinto Stadium as heavy underdogs. For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
“It gives us a big motivation because the United States is a great team and one always wants to play against better teams so we can become better,” Malblanche said. “It’s great motivation for us. There’s no pressure.”
All the pressure is squarely on the Americans, who defeated Belize, 6-1, in the opening match of the group in Portland, Ore. on Tuesday. Cuba, meanwhile, fell to Costa Rica, 3-0.
“We watched their previous games and, obviously in detail, watched the game the other night,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It’s like Belize, it is a situation for us where we can only lose. If you win, its what everybody expects. They have everything to win here.”
The United States have dominated recent encounters with Cuba, holding a 7-1-1 edge in all-time matches and are 4-0 in the Gold Cup against the Caribbean side.
Still, Klinsmann is expecting a difficult game.
“It demands a lot of focus from these guys, it demands a high tempo from the beginning in very high temperatures here and a lot of hard work,” he said. “Our goal is three points and to be in a very, very good position before our last game against Costa Rica in Hartford.”
The United States is firing on all cylinders offensively of late, scoring a combined 12 goals in back-to-back wins over Guatemala, in a pre-tournament friendly, and in the opener against Belize.
Cuban defender Jorge Luis Clavelo believed that his team is prepared for the diverse and dangerous U.S. attack.
"We’ve been working tactically, we’re going to work together as one team so we can defeat the attack that the U.S. will bring,” he said.
The Cubans proved a difficult side to break down in their opener against Costa Rica, holding the Ticos scoreless at halftime. Costa Rica scored all three of its goals in the second half, in part Clavelo said, because Cuba tired after arriving in Portland the day before the match.
“I think that, as we know, the U.S. is a great national team, one of the favorite teams to win the Gold Cup,” he said. “Regardless of what happened in the first match, we come out with the same goal, to try to win the second game. We’re rested now, we’re prepared technically and tactically. We hope to have a great result.”
Added Cuba head coach Walter Benitez: “We’re going to have the opportunity and the privilege to face one of the greatest teams in CONCACAF. First off, Cuba will fight at all times during the game as always. We know it’s going to be a very difficult game, but we’re prepared and we’re going to see what happens.”
Three players on the U.S. roster have scored against Cuba – Donovan, Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu, a central defender, will start against the Cubans Saturday.
“Our only objective every time we step on the field is to win and as a defender is not to concede any goals,” Onyewu said. “I know we’re going to go into this game with that objective in mind. The only good result we can have is three points.”