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US Men Ride Roller Coaster of Emotions to Top of Group B

by on 16 July 2017

The USMNT had a steep hill to climb against Nicaragua. After Panama’s drubbing of Martinique, the Yanks needed a 3-0 win to earn first place in Group B. Despite two missed penalties, goals from Joe Corona, Kellyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga allowed the USMNT to achieve their objective.

Pregame

Once again, Bruce Arena heavily rotated the USMNT lineup. While Graham Zusi, Dax McCarty, Dom Dwyer, Jorge Villafaña, Matt Besler, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, and Kelyn Rowe returned to the starting XI after their tournament debuts against Panama. Bedoya once again wore the captain’s armband. Chris Pontius, Matt Miazga, and Bill Hamid made their first appearances in the starting XI for the Gold Cup.

Earlier in the day Panama beat Martinique 3-0, which meant that in order to win Group B, the USMNT had to beat Nicaragua by three goals.

In its previous two matches, Nicaragua lost 2-0 to Martinique and 2-1 to Panama. With those two losses, La Azul y Blanco were guaranteed that this would be their last match in the 2017 Gold Cup. The lone goal scorer for Nicaragua in Gold Cup history, Carlos Chavarría scored the best goal of the group stages with a rocket from just outside the box that pinged the top 90. However, Chavarría missed the match against USMNT because of a yellow card suspension.

First half

The Yanks started the match constantly attacking and pressuring the Nicaragua defense. Corona, Pontius, and Bedoya were patrolling the wings looking for the killer ball in the box. One such ball from Corona led to a strong first touch from Dwyer that Justo Lorente fell on in the box.

The first chance for the Yanks came off a throw-in into the Nicaragua box; the ball was cleared by Rowe, who sent a laser beam into the chest of Lorente. One thing was certain, the Yanks were not going to let up the pressure on the Nicaragua back line.

A long ball into the Nicaragua box from Villafaña was headed down by Pontius, and Bedoya and Dwyer both saw shots blocked by the Nicaragua defense. Soon after, Bedoya drew a foul from Luis Peralta, who would earn the match’s first yellow card.

Zusi went on a marauding run from midfield after a deft tackle. He looked to play the ball to Bedoya or Dwyer but neither man could get open. Zusi ended up taking the ball to an open spot in the box and shooting the ball into Lorente’s chest.

In the 37th minute, the breakthrough finally came. Bedoya broke through on the wing off of a nice first-touch pass from Dwyer. Bedoya played a low cross through the box that found Corona. Corona danced around three defenders and quite literally squeaked the ball into the net for his third career international goal. This was the first goal that the Yanks had scored in the first half during the Gold Cup.

The Yanks looked more likely to score throughout the first half, constantly attacking from the wings. It was a good strategy as Lorente looked uncomfortable going up in the air to collect the U.S. crosses. However, it was a low cross from Bedoya that found Corona for the only goal of the half. Nicaragua’s best chances came from long range but never really tested Hamid in goal. One long shot after the restart knuckled so much that Hamid had to palm the ball over the crossbar. Other than that, Hamid looked comfortable between the sticks. The U.S. needed two more goals to ensure the top spot in Group B and avoid a matchup with Costa Rica in the knockout round.

Second half

Only one change for either team after halftime. Nicaragua brought in forward Jorge Hurtado for center midfielder Luis Peralta who was on a yellow card.

Four minutes into the second half, Dom Dwyer (let’s be honest) went down a little too easily in the box. The ref made no hesitation and pointed to the spot. Perhaps due to karma, Lorente guessed the right way and saved the penalty from Dwyer. Almost immediately, Luis Copete actually fouled Dwyer outside the box for a dangerous free kick. Zusi, Rowe, Pontius, and Dwyer gathered around the ball. Zusi was the one to take the kick; he back-heeled a pass to Dwyer who had his shot blocked by a Nicaragua defender.

In the 56th minute, Nicaragua attempted to build an attack from its own territory. A quick touch from Bedoya canceled out the Nicaragua attack and knocked the ball to Dwyer. Dwyer one-timed the ball back to Bedoya who found Rowe in on goal. Rowe struck the ball with the outside of his boot and with the help of a deflection beat Lorente at his near post. Soon after netting his first international goal Rowe made way for Paul Arriola.

Immediately, after the substitution, Bedoya took the ball into the box and tried to cut a cross back. A Nicaragua defender slid in and hit the ball with his hand. The ref immediately called another penalty. Corona decided that he would take the penalty, and took it poorly as Lorente easily made the save. A few minutes later he made way for Jordan Morris.

Nicaragua made their last two subs in the 69th minute. Eulises Pavón came in for Bryan Garcia, and 19-year-old Henry Niño came in for Bismarck Véliz.

In the 73rd minute, a long shot forced a save from Bill Hamid. Hamid left a juicy rebound but managed to beat a Nicaragua forward to the loose ball. At the next dead ball, Bruce Arena used his final sub as Dom Dwyer was replaced by Juan Agudelo.

A scary moment in the 77th minute as Lorente and Morris knocked knees going up for a cross. Both players would spend time being looked at by trainers on the pitch; thankfully each player would continue.

Nicaragua saw a man sent off as Agudelo attempted to play the ball around Copete on a counter attack. As the ball skidded past Copete he made no play on the ball and instead lowered his shoulder and leveled Agudelo. Copete was shown his second yellow card of the match and was given his marching orders from the ref. The resulting free kick was taken by Zusi who weighted a perfect cross to the far post. A diving header by Matt Miazga scored the third goal for the Yanks that they needed to win the group.

The final whistle sounded after three minutes of stoppage time. Despite having two penalties saved by Lorente, the Yanks managed to pull out the 3-0 result that they needed. They will play a third place team, either Jamaica or El Salvador, on Wednesday, July 19th in the quarterfinals.

Who impressed?

Alejandro Bedoya. With two assists, Bedoya was instrumental in the USMNT attack. His passing carved through the Nicaragua defense and his well-timed tackle led to Rowe’s goal.

Kelyn Rowe. The New England Revolution winger had the most shots on goal in the first half and was constantly buzzing around the Nicaragua defense. He finally broke through with his first international goal in the second half.

Matt Miazga. The 21-year-old defender had a quiet game for most of his first Gold Cup appearance and that is okay. He and Matt Besler had a solid game in defense. What puts him over the top is his textbook diving header to seal the group for the Yanks.

Who disappointed?

Dom Dwyer. Even before the missed penalty, Dwyer was not having a good game. He was caught offside at inopportune moments and his first touch was lacking in quality.

Joe Corona. Yes, he scored, but outside of his goal the Xolos man left a lot to be desired. His corners never really threatened and rarely found an American shirt, and his weak penalty was easily saved.


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