Penalty Kick Woes and the Emergence of Kelyn Rowe
July 15, 2017
THANKS TO A SECOND-HALF RALLY to defeat Nicaragua by a necessary three-goal margin, the United States managed to win Group B despite being its own worst enemy through the first three games of the Gold Cup.
Just as the first two games had some tough moments, Saturday's contest featured an almost unthinkable two blown penalty opportunities. Still, the U.S. was in command throughout the 90 minutes and deserved a lopsided result.
Now Bruce Arena and Co. has a much easier path to the semifinals. Had Matt Miazga not hit the back of the net in the 88th minute, the U.S. would be facing a strong Costa Rican in the quarterfinals. It does not yet know its opponent but there is no question it dodged a bullet avoiding the Ticos.
Abysmal penalty taking
The big talking point from the game is the U.S. missing two penalties in the second half. Dom Dwyer drew the first penalty but Nicaragua's Justo Lorente saved his shot. Joe Corona claimed the second PK but his weak attempt was never going to beat the keeper.
Missed penalties happen but it does beg the question: Is there a designated penalty taker on the team or does Arena let the players decide? Having a couple of predetermined takers is usually the best. Despite the miss, Dwyer’s seven converted penalties out of nine attempts for Sporting Kansas City still probably makes him the best taker on this roster—and he probably should have taken the second shot after missing the first.
And a followup question: Who is the team's penalty taker when the full team is in camp?
This was never much of concern for the U.S. in previous generations: Landon Donovan was a great penalty taker and before him Eric Wynalda was also top-notch.
And now? Christian Pulisic was never great at penalties dating back to his youth level. Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore are not stellar from the spot. It's not an ideal situation.
Best game of the group stage
While it's true that Nicaragua was a poor opponent, the U.S. enjoyed its best game of the tournament. The Yanks made fewer bad mistakes than it had in the Panama or Martinique games and simple penalty conversion would have given the U.S. a result that more fairly reflected the talent gap between the teams.
The biggest difference? The U.S. easily won possession whenever Nicaragua was on the ball.
The complete overhaul in the starting lineup proved to be a shrewd move as it halted any negative momentum from Wednesday's lackluster win over Martinique. And give the players credit: Poor finishing and penalty taking could have taken their toll but the players continued to fight through their frustration to get the needed result.
Kelyn Rowe is big winner so far
Ahead of the tournament Arena indicated he was looking for players who could force their way into the player pool, and he found at least one: Kelyn Rowe. The New England Revolution attacking midfielder has proved very effective thus far, creating chances and being involved and always looking to pounce. On Saturday Rowe scored the Americans' econd goal, his first international tally.
His defense may need some work but the 25-year-old is clearly worth bringing into the fold with the regular first team players.
Veterans step up
In a game that required a big margin of victory, Arena turned to some veterans—and they delivered.
Alejandro Bedoya had his best game in a long time as he contributed defensively and maderuns and passes that helped open up the game in the second half. Matt Besler’s passing out of the back was instrumental for U.S. possession and Graham Zusi’s free kick on Miazga’s winner was one of the best sequences of the match.
While several new players also stepped up, it was three veterans who made the difference.
Replacements will significantly help
Michael Bradley and Tim Howard were spotted watching from the stands Saturday night—a clear indication that they will join the team when Arena makes his roster changes. Arena is allowed to swap out six players between the group stage an the knockout round, and reports indicated that Jozy Altidore is joining the squad. Darlington Nagbe and Clint Dempsey are expected as well.
This quintet should bring a huge boost to the team, both on and off the field.