When the U.S. arrived in Cuba for its first exhibition game in 69 years at the Caribbean island nation, the Americans were surprised by the conditions at Havana’s Estadio Pedro Marrero. The surface was bumpy and filled with brown patches.
“The field was a field that was not playable,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “On that field, it’s impossible to get a higher rhythm, a higher tempo, higher pace.”
Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green scored second-half goals, Ethan Horvath got a shutout in his international debut and the United States won 2-0 on Friday in a prep match for next month’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico.
The U.S. started nine players who likely will be on the field against El Tri. The 22nd-ranked Americans struggled to mount attacks in the first half against No. 139 Cuba, hampered by the field and forced to play long balls in the air.
Still, they extended their winning streak to three.
Regular goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan were given the game off. At 21 years, 120 days, Horvath became the youngest goalkeeper to debut for the U.S. since Zach Thornton was a 69th-minute substitute in a 3-0 win at Jamaica on Nov. 22, 1994.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to have to do too much today, but in the end I did,” said Horvath, who had three saves and watched second-half shots by Maykel Reyes and Roberney Caballero hit posts.
A 21-year-old making his first start in more than two years, Green created the first goal when he dribbled down the left side, cut toward the center and took a 19-yard curling shot that was parried by goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez. The rebound went to Wondolowski, who scored with a right-footed shot from 8 yards in the 62nd minute. Wondolowski’s 11th international goal was his first since July 2015 against Guatemala.
“Not easy conditions with travel, field and weather,” Wondolowski said. “At halftime, we had a little bit more adjustments, a little bit more direct, didn’t want to make silly passes in the middle where you could lose it and get counterattacked on.”
Nine minutes later, second-half sub Timmy Chandler played a long ball over the defense to Wondolowski, who also entered at the start of the second half. He ran onto the ball and at the end line crossed to Green, who beat defender Josel Piedra and redirected the ball into the net. Green, who has struggled to gain playing time at Bayern Munich, scored his only other international goal against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup.
“Tried to go one against one and take some shots,” Green said.
While Klinsmann is trying to break in younger players, he keeps selecting the 33-year-old Wondolowski.
“Wondo is a huge part of our group, because he’s a giver and every time you ask him something to do, he does it 1,000 percent, so he drives the chemistry of a team, the energy of a team,” Klinsmann said.
The U.S. improved to 10-1-1 against Cuba but this was just its third match in Cuba following a 1947 exhibition and a 2008 World Cup qualifier. The Americans play New Zealand on Tuesday at Washington, D.C., in another exhibition to prepare for the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. They open the hexagonal Nov. 11 against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, then play four days later at Costa Rica.
Horvath, who is from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, plays for Molde in Norway and was part of the U.S. under-23 team that failed to qualify for this year’s Olympics. He is competing with Bill Hamid, David Bingham and William Yarbrough to become the team’s third goalkeeper.
Klinsmann inserted three other players who did not start in last month’s qualifying win over Trinidad. Right back DeAndre Yedlin returned from a one-game suspension, central defender John Brooks recovered from a back injury and Green filled an opening created by Alejandro Bedoya’s strained rib muscle.
Geoff Cameron was paired with Brooks in central defense, and Fabian Johnson was at left back. Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan and 18-year-old Christian Pulisic were in the midfield, and Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood headed the attack. “We knew that is was going to be difficult on this field,” Klinsmann said.
Notes: D Steve Birnbaum sustained a facial cut from a kick by Duxney Espinosa. ... ESPN broadcasters Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman announced the game from a studio in Bristol, Connecticut, rather than from the stadium.