U.S. Scores Late, Defeats Nicaragua 3-0 to Win Group
July 15, 2017
KELYN ROWE AND MATT MIAZGA scored their first-ever goals for the U.S. men's national team as the Yanks defeated Nicaragua 3-0, enough—just barely—to win Group B of the 2017 Gold Cup.
The Americans knew exactly what they had to do against Nicaragua prior to the opening whistle. Given Panama's 3-0 victory against Martinique earlier in the day, the U.S. needed a three-goal victory to secure first place in the group and a knockout match against a third-place finisher. Anything less than that would result in a second-place finish and a matchup with Costa Rica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals.
The United States' inability to put a lesser opponent away early may not inspire much confidence but it did generate plenty of drama. Dom Dwyer and Joe Corona both missed second-half penalty kicks that might have made this game a blowout, and too many poor touches in the final third kept things tense until the final moments of the match.
Nothing has come easy for Bruce Arena's men so far. Perhaps emphasizing fresh legs over top talent, the coach made 11 changes to the lineup that squeaked past Martinique a few days prior.
Matt Miazga earned his third cap, lining up alongside Matt Besler in central defense. Perhaps due to the howler he allowed against Martinique, Brad Guzan found himself on the bench and Bill Hamid got the nod. Graham Zusi started over Eric Lichaj at right back and Alejandro Bedoya, who has accomplished little so far this tournament, started in the midfield and wore the captain's armband.
The first third of the contest was thoroughly uneventful. As expected, the Americans maintained the bulk of possession, but nothing much came of it. Zusi had an open shot on goal but delivered a weak shot straight into Justo Lorente's arms. Rowe offered up an ambitious long-range shot but it missed the near post by about a foot.
The U.S. took the lead thanks to an extremely fortunate deflection in the 36th minute. The play began when Bedoya burst down the right wing and sent it a hopeful cross that missed all U.S. attackers but also slipped past Nicaragua's defense. Corona eventually ran onto the ball, dribbled a few times, and then sent a right-footed shot toward goal. His shot took a wicked deflection off a Nicaraguan defender's hand that froze Lorente, and the ball rolled into the back of the net.
The U.S. had one of the three goals it needed at intermission. But it was clear to all that the Yanks needed to step things up in the second half.
Five minutes after the break the home team nearly doubled its lead when Dom Dwyer was pulled down in the penalty area—but Lorente blocked Dwyer's well-struck penalty kick and the score remained the same.
To their credit, the Yanks kept their feet on the gas and scored in the 56th minute. Zusi started the play by forcing a turnover deep in Nicaraguan territory. The ball found Bedoya and the captain threaded a lovely pass to Rowe, who made a quality first touch and pushed the ball past Lorente.
Rowe's shot, like Corona's, benefited from a deflection off a Nicaraguan defender, but with more than a half hour left to play the U.S. seemed primed to secure a three-goal victory and win its group.
Fortune favored the Yanks a few minutes later when Bedoya moved into the penalty area and made a smart cut-back move that produced a handball and another penalty.
Dwyer didn't get a second chance at the PK—Corona claimed the shot. But the Club Tijuana man failed to place his shot well, Lorente blocked it, and the score remained 2-0.
Since three remained the magic number, Arena brought in a variety attacking subs—Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo—in an effort to add to the U.S. tally. At the 80-minute mark, however, none of the moves had paid off.
And then everything changed on a dead-ball play.
Two minutes before the end of regulation, Miazga scored his first-ever goal for the senior side, and it was a big one. Zusi delivered the probing spot kick and Miazga delivered when it mattered most, diving onto the cross and producing a no-doubter past a flailing Lorente. Three goals up, and mission accomplished.
The Americans never looked confident, or dominant, during the group stage, but the results do speak volumes: two wins and a tie; first place in the group; and a better path forward in the tournament.
Arena can now make six roster changes before the knockout games begin, and Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore have already joined the team.
Who else would you like to see join the squad, and who should be bounced from the roster? Share your take in the Comments below, soccer people.