Cuba, let's face it, are not very good. They were absolutely creamed by Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico, the top two teams in their group, in their first couple games, then just barely scraped by Guatemala to advance out of Group C. That means a tough matchup with the United States.
Four players have now defected from the communist country throughout the course of the Gold Cup, including their top player, Ariel Martinez. Martinez, who started all three games, is their number-10 and top offensive player. Their offense becomes even weaker due to the loss.
They are minnows in the CONCACAF world, shown by their elimination by Curaçao in World Cup qualifying. So they already won't be in Russia for 2018, meaning they will mark the 80th-anniversary of their last World Cup appearance at home.
To put it bluntly, Cuba is one of the worst teams in the tournament, and should be handily beaten by Jurgen Klinsmann's side. But, like every game, the USA can not take them lightly, if they do, an upset is always possible.
On to the tactical preview:
Cuba's projected formation: 4-3-1-2. Cuba played three different lineups in the group stage, but used the formation in the win over Guatemala.
The way Cuba will use the formation will likely be partial to defense. While it is normally used to help the fullbacks push forward as well as one or two of the central midfielders, they will probably use it to help retain possession in the midfield and stop a quick counter.
Cuba, in MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle's words, bunkers. This means that they like to sit back and clog the passing lanes instead of focusing on the man with the ball. They used this in their 6-0 loss against Mexico. The reason El Tri won by so many goals is because of the fact that they did exactly what they needed to do in order to beat the strategy: keep possession consistently in the final third and have an attacking midfielder or two feed through-balls in the box.
Mexico won the possession battle handily, with 76% of possession going to the winners. As you can see, the Mexicans never let up, and most of the time they had the ball in the final third.
With Cuba focusing more on the passing lanes than anything else, Mexico sent short balls over the top and through-balls that split the center-backs, resulting in an abnormal amount of breakaways and shots inside the box. 18 shots on target were fired on by Mexico as a result, and Cuba's helpless keeper, Diosvelis Guerra, was able to save what he could.
The score could have been a lot greater if Mexico had finished more efficiently. They shot the ball 44 times overall, so clearly, they sent way too many wide of the net.
This is how to beat Cuba. The US should watch the Cuba/Mexico game and take notes on how Mexico exploits their opponents, because emulating that is how they can get a similar result.
As long as America can finish the job well enough, they should have no problem scoring.
Key player: USA midfielder Michael Bradley
The US's attacking mid, Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, will play a huge role in their offensive output. While creating chances in the final third is not Bradley's game, he will need to figure out how to do something like it if lots of goals are going to be scored.
Bradley can shoot from outside the box, so with Cuba not stepping up to defend the shot almost ever, he has a very good chance to shoot from there a couple of times. Mexico had opportunities to do that, so Bradley, as well as other players, will have a chance to test Guerra from long range.
Will Cuba attack?
Against a talented opponent like the USA, attacking most likely won't be the main focus of Cuba, much like Haiti, Panama, and Honduras in the group stage. They will surely attempt to counter, but the USMNT have done an exceptional job of stopping it, specifically Kyle Beckerman. He has a way of slowing it down when need be, and with Cuba not generally being all that proficient at dribbling and passing towards the opposing goal, he should be able to step up and get the ball back in the other zone quickly.
Cuba was sloppy against Mexico when they had the ball, taking bad touches and turning it over almost immediately after they got it.
That is why Guillermo Ochoa enjoyed the easiest game a keeper could have, only facing a single shot. If all goes according to plan, Brad Guzan will also not have to do much.
Prediction: USA 4 Cuba 0
It will be an easy one for the US.
They will score goals on sheer talent, with Clint Dempsey netting a brace and Michael Bradley firing one from distance past poor Guerra. The other goal will go to a forward, most likely Chris Wondolowski, Gyasi Zardes, or even Alan Gordon. They will be the benefactors of a long time spent in the final third.