2017 Gold Cup: U.S. Scrambles, but Wins Group

DE0eHyCWAAAi-D1-B

By JACK BELL

Gold Cup logoMatt Miazga‘s first international goal late in Saturday night’s match gave the United States the margin it needed to win Group B, 3-0, over Nicaragua in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Cleveland.

Incredibly, the U.S. scrambled for the third goal, which enabled the American team to edge Panama for the top spot in the group on the basis of more goals scored, after missing not one, but two penalty kicks in the second half — first by Dom Dwyer, then by Joe Corona. So instead of having to face a difficult opponent in Costa Rica in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the U.S. will now play one of the third-place teams that advance. Instead Panama will face the Ticos. The U.S. will face El Salvador, Honduras or Jamaica. Coach Bruce Arena is expected to avail himself of several additions to his roster — each team is allowed to add six players for the knockout stages.

“Clearly a good result for us,” Arena said after the game. “It’s a game where we wasted some opportunities and made things hard on ourselves.”

The U.S. finally broke through, scoring in the 37th minute. Graham Zusi found the captain Alejandro Bedoya on the right flank. Bedoya’s cross skittered through the penalty area to a wide-open Corona who needed a couple of cutbacks before hitting a right-footed shot that deflected off a Nicaragua defender and inside the far post.

Corona’s goal came almost four years to the day from his last one for the national team — also in the Gold Cup, on July 21, 2013 — in a 5-1 win over El Salvador.

Four minutes into the second half Dwyer was yanked down in the penalty area and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Dwyer, who was bidding to become only the third American to score in his first three internationals, sent the spot kick high to the near post where it was saved by Nicaragua goalkeeper Gustavo Lorente.

The U.S. quickly atoned for the penalty miss when Kelyn Rowe scored his first international goal, in the 56th minute, from a lovely shot with the outside of his right foot, that took a deflection and slipped inside the near post for a 2-0 lead. It again was Bedoya setting up the score with an assist.

A hand ball in the Nicaragua penalty area five minutes later gave Corona a chance to score his second of the game and give the U.S. the margin it would need to win the group. But again, a poorly struck penalty — this one low to the near post — was saved by Lorente.

The U.S. gained a man advantage with five minutes left in normal time when Juan Agudelo, who replaced Dwyer, was slammed to the turf by Luis Copete. Copete was shown his second yellow card of the match and ejected. Nicaragua was down to nine when Luis Peralta was carried off the field.

When play resumed, Zusi sent a perfect free kick that the former Red Bulls defender Miazga ran on to inside the six-yard box at the near post and planted a header past Lorente to make the score 3-0 and give the U.S. the margin it needed to capture Group B and avoid a quarterfinal against Costa Rica on Wednesday night.

The U.S. has now won every group stage — except one in 2011 — since the Gold Cup took its current form in 1991.