The US warmed up for their looming World Cup qualifying clash against Mexico with a 2-0 friendly victory over Cuba on Friday, only the third time in history the two nations have met on Cuban soil.
Chris Wondolowski in the 62nd minute and Julian Green in the 71st scored for the visitors.
The match at the Estadio Pedro Marrero was the latest byproduct of the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba after more than half a century of bitter Cold War enmity. It was the first time the US have played in Cuba since their World Cup qualifying clash in Havana in 2008, when the visitors won 1-0 courtesy of a Clint Dempsey goal.
Aside from that, the only other meeting between the teams in Cuba came in 1947, when the hosts triumphed 5-2.
“Today we made history,” US forward Jozy Altidore said. “Thanks to Cuba for the hospitality and here’s to continuing to improve our relations in the future.”
Yet while Friday’s game came loaded with political symbolism, for US coach Jurgen Klinsmann the match was key preparation for World Cup qualifiers.
After an hour of frustration, San Jose Earthquakes striker Wondolowski, a halftime substitute, broke the scoreless deadlock, slamming in a rebound from a Green attempt saved by Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez.
Less than 10 minutes later it was Wondolowski’s low cross across the Cuba goal mouth that Bayern Munich winger Green — recalled for the first time since May — seized to slot home.
Cuba had given the visitors a scare with two shots off the post before the US took control in the second half.
Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, making his US debut, made a save on Roberney Caballero’s shot in the 28th minute to keep the game scoreless and minutes later thwarted an attempt by Aricheel Hernandez.
The US got a fright of another kind in the 80th minute, when Steve Birnbaum was kicked in the head by a leaping Cuban player. He was treated on the field and was able to walk off under his own steam.
Klinsmann’s men open their CONCACAF “Hexagonal” World Cup qualifying competition with a home match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 11 before facing 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica in San Jose four days later.
They are to play another tuneup friendly on Tuesday against New Zealand in Washington.
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