After a listless first half, the game opened up and became an entertainingly offensive affair. Ultimately, a pair of goals from Jordan Morris provided the breathing room to beat the willing and able Caribbean side.
Before the match, U.S. manager Bruce Arena admitted that his squad had looked sloppy on Saturday. “There’s not a whole lot I would say I was pleased with. I thought our goalkeeping was very good. After that, I’m not jumping for joy at the moment, so we’ve got to get a lot of things right.” Arena anticipated both a need for squad rotation and a heavily defensive look for Martinique.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) July 13, 2017
Arena’s line-up made good on the promise of rotation. Only Kellyn Acosta, Omar Gonzalez, and Brad Guzan got a second start. In addition to a heavily rotated back line and midfield, Arena chose a more aggressive attacking arrangement with both Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris up top.
Meanwhile, Les Matininos left Nashville with three points and a pile of confidence. Coach (and former USMNT defender) David Regis had every reason to keep his overlooked side motivated and hungry for their stated goal of reaching the quarterfinals. Perhaps because of this strong standing, they chose to keep the same squad intact before kick-off in Tampa.
The Americans started to threaten quickly with Gyasi Zardes moving fast down the left hand side and playing crosses in to pressure the Martinique goal mouth. Les Matininos were able to slow down the American attack with a more aggressive high-line defense. Seattle’s Jordy Delem was particularly effective in stepping up to dispossess Jordan Morris. In addition to pushing as high as midfield to pressure the US attack, Delem and right-side partner Nicolas Zaïre became frequent pests, knocking down crosses and disrupting shots.
In the 11th minute, Kellyn Acosta’s free kick from the edge of the box effectively targeted Jordan Morris, but the young striker’s header ended wide of Martinique’s net. From there, the US managed to continue their pressure, but never quite found the final touch. Zardes and Acosta remained the principal danger men, choosing to knock cross after cross deep and over Delem. But again and again, shots went high, wide, or were handsomely deflected by Martinique’s other defenders, and goalkeeper Kévin Olimpia.
The final fifteen minutes of the half featured a dispiriting decline in American effort and a stronger showing from Martinique. Les Matininos’ best chance of the opening half came when Kévin Parsemain slipped past the back line on a weaving run across the field. After receiving the ball back from the deceptive dribbler, Johan Audel, his shot slammed off the near post and out of danger. The first 45 ended scoreless, but with an increasingly confident Martinique.
Best chance of the half? That would go to #MTQ
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2017
The US returned to the front foot quickly at the start of the second half with Paul Arriola receiving a golden chance from a deflection in front of goal, only to slam his header off the crossbar. Soon the game became a shuttle run. Going end-to-end, both teams had chances, and American fans grew increasingly concerned until the breakthrough finally came.
In the 54th minute, a deflected corner came a long way out to meet Arriola’s strong right foot. A quick punch out by keeper Olimpia was not enough to avoid the opportunistic strike of Omar Gonzalez, who finally put the Americans on top.
Once the deadlock was broken, the Americans became increasingly imperious in the attack, clearly in the hunt for a second goal and the goal differential bonus that came with it. Eventually that goal came in the 64th minute, as left back Eric Lichaj made a strong run down the side line before slotting a dangerous low cross. An excellently timed run by Jordan Morris slipped between Sébastian Cretinoir and Kévin Olimpia to slide in the second goal.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) July 13, 2017
But Martinique was not to be silenced so easily. Two minutes later, Martinique’s career leader in goals, Kévin Parsemain, received the ball a little way outside the penalty box and let loose a long shot that bounced off Brad Guzan’s hand and into the net. Then, in the 75th minute, Les Matininos used some tremendous speed to capitalize on a disorganized US back line. A mild cross bounced around a discombobulated defense, before substitute Johan Audel blasted a shot that deflected off a prone Parsemain into the back of the net.
Before Martinique could settle back and seek a shocking draw, the US struck back. Gyasi Zardes finally found a great opportunity on the left wing. A beautiful pass let Zardes draw the defense back, and he laid the ball back to Jordan Morris who blasted it into the top of the net.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) July 13, 2017
Having avoided a disastrous draw, the United States still struggled to kill the game off. Frequent loose balls and defensive lapses left many opportunities available for Martinique. A few wild shots and a few more lost opportunities helped the United States leave with the full three points.
The US has moved to a tie atop Group B. They will face pointless Nicaragua in Cleveland Saturday for a chance to take the top seed into the next round.
Martinique has slipped to third in the group, but they seem well positioned to make the quarterfinals. A point against Panama on Saturday would likely seal the deal.
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