By halftime I was mentally preparing myself to write a piece on how the US imploded and lost to Martinique. The US came out flat and lacked energy during large stretches of the first half and Martinique appeared ready to make some waves. Ultimately the US saw it through, picking up 3 points in a much needed 3-2 victory over their opponent. But man, that could have been really embarrassing.
The United States saw a lot of roster changes from their game against Panama to tonight’s game against Martinique. Many of the US’s fringe players were given a chance to step up and state their case that they should be included in the 2018 World Cup. A few showed well, most did not. Here is what we learned as well as the standout moments from tonights second match in Gold Cup group play.
On a young squad, veterans continue to be the difference makers:
In our opener against Panama I made note of the fact that the veteran leadership of Omar Gonzalez and Brad Guzan was the difference-maker in keeping the US level with Panama. Gonzalez had a fantastic goal line clearance last match, followed up with him scoring his second international goal tonight.
It couldn’t have come at more crucial time as up until that point the game very much hung in the balance. Gonzalez was one of only three players that were carried over from the first game’s starting lineup to tonights, Brad Guzan and Kellyn Acosta being the other two. Similarly, Gonzalez was the only field player tonight who featured in the 2014 World Cup. That leadership and experience proved invaluable tonight as many on the team seemed listless at times.
Brad Guzan on the other hand was on track to be my man of the match right up until the 76th minute. He had to come up with a couple of important saves to keep Martinique at bay during the first half and in the early stages of the second.
Such is the life of a goalkeeper though when they can come up with a number of critical saves but see their night ruined by one gaffe. With the US up 2-0 and looking to put this game to bed, Martinique was able to grab a goal against the run of play. It was a hard, low shot taken from just outside the 18. Guzan had the time and the momentum to make the save but saw the ball bounce up and off of his outstretched hands and into the back of the net.
Only 10 minutes later he came up once again with a big kick save only to see a gnarly deflection lift up and over his outstretched hands.
Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer are battling for a ticket to Russia:
We have two talented forwards and only one plane ticket left. Assuming that everyone is healthy, my guess is that Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood are a lock to make the 2018 World Cup roster. That leaves one final spot for either Dom Dwyer or Jordan Morris. Dwyer has been on a roll since gaining his citizenship and earning his first cap against Ghana earlier this month. He has featured twice for the US, starting against Ghana on July 1st and against Panama on July 8th. In both games he bagged a goal.
With the US and Martinique level at 0-0 in the second half, chants from the fans began to shower down onto the pitch. They were calling for Dwyer to be subbed into the match. Jordan Morris was clearly listening as he kicked into gear and grabbed his first brace in the stars and stripes, scoring in the 64th and the game winner in the 76th.
Martinique had just leveled the match literally seconds before and it honestly looked like they could press on and win the game. Fortunately, Morris had other plans and drilled home a beautiful first time shot into the upper 90 off a Gyasi Zardes a well placed cross back to the top of the box.
This is shaping up to be a great battle between Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris for a spot on the US roster headed to Russia. This will be a positional battle that will be fun to watch shape up throughout the Gold Cup and into qualifying.
The USA will win the group and Martinique will advance:
I try to shy away from hot takes but I am calling it now. After Panama’s 2-1 win against Nicaragua and the US’s 3-2 win over Martinique, the Group B table sees the US and Panama tied at the top.
The US will easily beat Nicaragua on Saturday and I am optimistic that Martinique can get a result against Panama. Due the structure of the Gold Cup, Martinique could even see itself through from the 3rd place spot if they can muster a draw. I think they have the athleticism and the desire to punch their ticket.