KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) Everything went splendidly for the United States in its Olympic qualifying match against Cuba until the final minutes, when Marc Pelosi went down in a collision and clutched his shin.
For a moment, coach Andi Herzog feared the talented midfielder had broken his leg again.
It turned out the budding San Jose Earthquakes star merely sustained a deep gash, one that should not keep him out too long. Good thing for the Americans, whose 6-1 victory over a depleted Cuba squad Saturday guaranteed them a spot in the CONCACAF semifinals.
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”This was important,” Herzog said. ”What we said in the meeting and in the locker room before we went to the field, we wanted to set the tone right from the beginning and the boys did.”
As for Pelosi, who missed more than a year after breaking his leg in 2013: ”I was really worried something happened again,” Herzog said. ”It hurts but it’s not bad.”
Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Jerome Kieswetter scored in the first half for the U.S., which beat Canada on Thursday night to open the eight-team tournament. Kieswetter added his second goal early in the second half, and Emerson Hyndman and Alonso Hernandez also scored.
Daniel Luis scored in second-half stoppage time for Cuba.
The Americans play their final group stage match against Panama, which lost 3-1 to Canada, on Tuesday night in Colorado. Cuba faces Canada in the other doubleheader match.
The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals, and the two finalists qualify for the Rio Games, something that the U.S. failed to do for the London Olympics four years ago. The winner of the third-place match faces Colombia in a one-game playoff for another berth.
”I think we had a very good start against Canada for the first 50 minutes. The team gained a lot of confidence,” Herzog said. ”Three points is always a good start, to have more confidence and get in rhythm. And today I think we showed we were the better team right from the start.”
Cuba played the U.S. with just four bench players, two of them goalkeepers, after a wave of players presumably defected. CONCACAF confirmed Wednesday that three were missing, and a fourth did not show up for Thursday’s game. Another player, defender Brian Rosales, was absent Saturday.
Details of how or when the players left were not available.
Cuba also lost four players from its senior national team during the Gold Cup earlier this year. Those games were played at a series of sites in the U.S.
”The players that are not there is not a concern for me,” Cuba coach Raul Gonzalez said through a translator. ”I worry about the players that are here. They gave it their all today and I’m convinced that against Canada we’ll do much better, and that’s the most important thing.”
The Cubans put up a challenge much of the first half Saturday. They trailed just 1-0 and nearly scored the equalizer on a hard shot by Maykel Reyes in the 28th minute that forced American goalkeeper Zack Steffen to make a diving save.
”The first 16 minutes was calm,” Gonzalez said. ”Then the U.S. was the better team.”
That became apparent in the 35th minute, when Miazga’s header found the back of the net. The U.S. pressed the action, and Kieswetter capped a two-on-one breakaway a few minutes later to send the Americans to the locker room with a comfortable 3-0 cushion.
Kieswetter, who plays for Stuttgart in Germany, scored again in the 48th minute as the game began to get out of reach. Hyndman and Hernandez tacked on goals later in the second half.
”Two games, nine goals? It’s good,” Herzog said. ”They’re young players. Every goal you score for your country is huge. I remember when I was young, I had the same feelings. I’m really happy for every single player when they score a goal.”