Happy with opening draw, Cuba prepares for U.S.

The Cuba under-23 national team (pictured) trains for its upcoming CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship game against the USA. (Photo: Mexsport)

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Cuba was only 14 minutes away from its first-ever win in a CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship game, when Panama’s Josiel Nunez headed in the equalizer. 

Despite the fact that his team could not hold on to an early lead –acquired when an attempted clearance by Panama goalkeeper Elieser Powell caromed off Cuba’s Maykel Reyes and into the net – head coach Raul Gonzalez was pleased with the overall performance. 

“We scored a goal to take the lead and we knew it would be a hard game,” said the 47-year-old. “Panama is a very physical team. 

“In the second half, perhaps we sat back more to wait to counterattack. We had clear scoring chances to seal the match in the second half, but maybe we lacked that last pass, that finishing. I leave, however, calm because the team has given its all. They fought and we are happy with the result. The most important thing is that we got a point.” 

That point may prove crucial to the Cubans’ objective of reaching the semifinals. They face the United States on Saturday, before closing Group A play against Canada. 

With only one day in between the first and second encounters, Gonzalez wants his squad to be ready physically for the American challenge. 

“First thing is to try to have recover the players, that is the most important,” he responded when asked about how best to prepare for the U.S. “There was a great deal of running in the match. Panama invites you to play. Panama has improved in its football and it is a very physical football with a lot of contact. So we are going to recuperate our players and work on things like finishing and that last pass at the moment of finishing. That can give more tranquility to the team.” 

As would three points against one of the pre-tournament favorites.