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Gold Cup: US dismantles Nicaragua and finishes atop the group

Needing to win by 3 goals, the US gets it done

Ghana v United States Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Coming into Saturday’s match against Nicaragua, the Yanks did not need a result to move out of the group stage. Thanks to Panama’s 3-0 win over Martinique a few hours prior, the US’s ticket to the knockout rounds had already been punched. However, the US still had plenty to play for if they were going to win the group, and more importantly, avoid playing Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. In order for both of those things to happen the US needed to win by 3 goals. By doing so they’d finish tied on points and goal differential, but would beat Panama on the next tie-breaking factor, “goals for.”

In a game where the US’s ability to take all 3 points was never in question, there was still plenty of drama as the urgency to score 3 goals kept building with every tick of the game clock. Let’s look back on the key moments as well as what we learned from this match.

Dom Dwyer misses out on history and the US sucks at PK’s

Only 2 players in the history of American soccer have scored a goal in their first 3 games. Alexander Rae did it in 1937 and Eddie Johnson accomplished the feat in 2005. With Dwyer given the starting nod against a team who had given up 4 goals in their two previous matches, it seemed like Dwyer would have the chance to etch his name in the history books. However, the soccer gods, and a poorly taken penalty kick ultimately kept him from the accomplishment.

With the US up 1-0 on a Joe Corona goal and the US chasing a 3-0 win, Dom Dwyer earned a penalty when he was brought down in the box. He stepped up, primed to make history as well as bring the US within 1 goal of winning the group, until this happened:

It was a poorly taken PK from Dwyer and he will wish he had that one back. He came inches within scoring a goal in each of his first 3 games, but alas he fell short.

Only 13 minutes later, with the US now up 2-0 on Kelyn Rowe’s first ever US goal, the US found itself in the fortunate position of earning a second PK in the game. This time Joe Corona stepped up to take the shot. He had scored the US’s first goal, had earned the penalty with is dribbling in the box, and could net his first US brace. Until this happened:

Needless to say, the US will want to practice their penalty kicks ASAP. With the way the Gold Cup is formatted in the knockout rounds, their will be no extra time if teams are deadlocked at the end of 90 minutes. In the event that the score is level the game will proceed immediately to a shootout. So here’s to hoping the US gets its mojo back quick from the penalty spot.

The youngsters continue to gain valuable experience

With the comfort of knowing that the US had already advanced, Bruce Arena opted to field a team with a lot of youngsters. As national team stalwarts enter the twilight of their careers it is imperative that Bruce Arena give meaningful minutes to the younger members on the team. This will serve well in their development and will also allow Arena to gain valuable insight into who is ready for the next step in international competition.

In fact, 7 of the US players that received a start on Saturday were graduates of the Development Academy Program of the U.S. This also includes all three goal scorers, Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga.

Kelyn Rowe also got on the score sheet, now having scored a goal and notched an assist in only 3 caps with the senior team. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity to play on the international level and will give Arena something to think about when filling out the next starting 11.

Speaking of Matt Miazga and Kelyn Rowe, they both have only 3 caps, and now each have a goal with the senior squad thanks to their performance Saturday night.

For Kelyn Rowe, his goal came at a critical time in the match. Dom Dwyer had just missed his PK and the US was desperate to get their second if they were going to stay on track to win by 3 goals. Dwyer held up the ball at the top of the box and was able to push it over to Alejandro Bedoya right as Dwyer was tackled to the ground. Bedoya did well to see Rowe making a run behind the defense and pushed the ball gently through to a waiting Rowe who was able to bury it off a good shot and a fortunate deflection.

Miazga is still only 21 years old and the game against Nicaragua was able to score a goal from the center back position in only his 3rd cap. With the clock ticking down and the US hoping and pressing for that third goal that would allow them to win the group, the US earned a free kick in the 88th minute. Miazga and his teammates lined up along the 18 yard box and surged forward as Graham Zusi placed a nicely weighted free kick towards the back post of Nicaragua’s goalmouth. Miazga was able to get on the end of it and drill home his first international goal and win the group for the US.

Bring in the Calvary

The Gold Cup rules allow for each nation that makes it out of the group stage the opportunity to make up to 6 roster changes immediately preceding the end of their group play. Advancing out of the group stage was the first step, now winning it is final step. To do so, U.S. Soccer has announced the six changes that the US coaching staff will make. Here is who’s out:

  • Brad Guzan
  • Sean Johnson
  • Alejandro Bedoya (Personal reasons, wife is giving birth to his second child)
  • Christian Roldan
  • Kelyn Rowe
  • Dom Dwyer

And here is who’s in:

  • Tim Howard
  • Jesse Gonzalez
  • Michael Bradley
  • Jozy Altidore
  • Clint Dempsey
  • Darlington Nagbe

This signals clear intent from Arena to move away from developing younger players and towards winning the cup. Keep in mind that the team that wins the 2017 Gold Cup qualifies for the play-in game against 2019’s winner of the same cup. All for a chance to play in the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar.

What lies ahead

With the US finishing first in their group, they will now wait for Group C’s results from Sunday to come in before they will know who their next opponent is.

Group B final standings

What we do know is that the US will play on Wednesday, July 19th in Philadelphia. What we don’t know is who will line up across from them.

Also of note, Bruce Arena has now extended his undefeated streak to 11 games since taking over the top coaching position in American soccer (6-0-5). It has been a dream start and one that he hopes to see continued through the rest of July.