By Dylan Butler
PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s safe to say Cuban coach Walter Benitez is no fan of George Santayana.
The Spanish-American philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist is known for his saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
When it comes to Cuba’s history against Costa Rica, Benitez would just as soon forget.
“The only way of changing history is not passing that information along to our players and leaving the past where it belongs, in the past,” Benitez said. “First and foremost, this is a different team with a different mentality. We are convinced we can come out with a good result, a tie or possibly a victory.”
Cuba is determined to write a new history against the Ticos starting Tuesday night in the opening match of Group C in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at JELD-WED Field. Benitez has focused more on Cuba winning its first-ever Caribbean Cup in December than a winless streak against Costa Rica that dates back to 1998. For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
The Ticos, of course, are interested in writing the next winning chapter. Defender Michael Umana also knows Tuesday’s match is likely to be much more difficult than the 5-0 victory over Cuba that opened the 2011 Gold Cup for Costa Rica.
“It is important to have that statistic in our heads because it does help, but the distances have shortened among national teams and it will be important that we maintain our focus and don’t deviate from that,” Umana said. “Cuba is a very good team. They’ve grown in the last few years, they’re very physical, but tomorrow will be a new story and hopefully it will be a good one for us.”
Although Costa Rica and the United States are considered favorites in Group C, Ticos head coach Jorge Luis Pinto is expecting all three group encounters to be challenging.
“All the teams are great teams, they’re difficult, all the games will be really hard to play,” said the Colombian-born coach Pinto. “Cuba has a really fast team, very dynamic. Belize is a very physical team and the U.S. is playing here at home.”
Pinto said he would likely start Patrick Pemberton in goal Tuesday, with Roy Miller, Juan Diego Madrigal, Christopher Meneses and Umana in the back. The midfield should consist of Yeltsin Tejeda, Michael Barrantes, Osvaldo Rodriguez and Rodney Wallace, who plays for the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer, while the in-form duo of Jairo Arrieta and Alvaro Saborio will be up top.
However, Pinto indicated he’d likely rotate his lineup liberally throughout the tournament.
“Definitely, I don’t see any consistency in the roster right now,” he said. “I think from game one to two you will see some changes, four or five, but I think after the second game I’m going to see some things and I’m going to focus on those things to move on in the Cup and see how we’re doing at that point.”
The odds might be stacked against Cuba, but Benitez believes his team will be a different one mentality than the side that fell to Costa Rica two years ago.
“We are aware of what our capabilities are and what the Costa Rican team has,” Benitez said. “We just want to do our best to come up with a good score after the game.”