The ghosts of Gold Cup’s past raised their ugly heads Wednesday night in Tampa when Bruce Arena and his band of not so merry men came much too close to joining Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2015 side and Bob Bradley’s 2011 crew in the annals of USA Soccer Hall of Shame, only to hang on for a 3-2 win over Martinique, a land mass not even considered to be a country by FIFA and therefore not eligible to play in FIFA sanctioned events, no matter their results.
With last weekend’s desultory 1-1 draw versus Panama as a backdrop, Wednesday night in Tampa Bay figured to be a different story as Bruce Arena shuffled his lineup to give other players a chance to prove themselves against a true CONCACAF minnow.
All was going to plan early, although the Americans lack of dangerous chances, for all of its possession, left the teams level at zeroes after 45 minutes and it was the visitors who were unlucky as the two teams trudged to the locker rooms at the halfway point.
It was Martinique, population 386,486,
area: 435.52 square miles – so says Wikipedia – not the mighty Americans, population 321.4 million, area 3.797 million miles, that clanged a shot off the opponents post and not the other way round.
U. S. boss Bruce Arena had changed eight of the 11 players from his starting 11 from last weeks uninspired 1-1 draw versus Panama but after 45 minutes it was difficult to pick out any American player who had enhanced his reputation beyond perhaps goalkeeper Brad Guzan and forward Juan Agudelo.
The Yanks finally broke the deadlock when Omar Gonzalez scrambled home the opening goal in the 54th minute and when Jordan Morris added a second tally for the home side ten minutes later, home fans could have been forgiven for expecting a procession of U.S. goals in the final 35 or so minutes.
It was not to be, alas, as an Eric Lichaj miscue and some poor goaltending by Guzan allowed Kevin Parsemain to halve the U.SA. lead just two minutes after Morris’ initial strike.
Morris rang the bell again in the 76th minute but Parsemain pulled one back almost immediately for the underdogs, with the help of a fortunate deflection.
It was a bad night for Arena and his troops but in a tournament, all that matters is getting the result and living to fight another day. For the U.S. that day comes Saturday when the host nation welcomes Nicaragua to Cleveland for a 7 PM ET showdown at FirstEnergy Stadium. The match can be seen on FXX, Univision, and UDN.
Panama will play Martinique in the early game (4:30) at the same venue. Somehow, despite playing so poorly, the Americans top the group with four points from one win and a draw, leading Panama by virtue of having scored one extra goal. The top two nations and two top third-place finishers advance, so the Americans, Panama and Martinique are still in with a chance to move on.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 3 3
MTQ 0 2 2
USA – Omar Gonzalez 53rd minute
USA – Jordan Morris (Eric Lichaj) 64
MTQ – Kévin Parsemain (Stéphane Abaul) 66
MTQ – Kévin Parsemain (Johan Audel) 74
USA – Jordan Morris (Gyasi Zardes) 76
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 15-Eric Lichaj, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 21-Matt Hedges, 16-Justin Morrow; 20-Paul Arriola (7-Chris Pontius, 73), 23-Kellyn Acosta (11-Alejandro Bedoya, 62), 17-Cristian Roldan, 9-Gyasi Zardes; 18-Juan Agudelo (13-Dax McCarty, 86), 8-Jordan Morris
Subs not used : 12- Bill Hamid, 22- Sean Johnson , 2- Jorge Villafaña, 4- Matt Miazga, 5- Matt Besler, 6- Kelyn Rowe, 10- Joe Corona, 14- Dom Dwyer, 19- Graham Zusi
Head coach: Bruce Arena
MTQ : 23-Kévin Olimpa; 5-Karl Vitulin, 8-Jordy Delem, 21-Sébastien Cretinoir (capt.), 3-Antoine Jean-Baptiste; 20-Stéphane Abaul, 19-Daniel Herelle (22-Johnny Marajo, 78), 11-Johan Audel; 2-Nicolas Zaire (18-Jean-Manuel Nedra, 56), 17-Kévin Parsemain, 12-Yoann Arquin (10-Steeven Langil, 64)
Subs not used: 1-Emmanuel Vermignon, 4-Florian Narcissot, 6-Djenhael Mainge, 7-Grégory Pastel, 9-Antony Angely, 13-Christof Jougon, 14-Yann Thimon, 15-Gérald Dondon, 16-Loïc Chauvet
Head Coach: Jean-March Civalut
Stats Summary: USA / MTQ
Shots: 8 / 7
Shots on Goal: 3 / 1
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 8 / 1
Fouls: 8 / 5
Offside: 2 / 0
MTQ – Karl Vitulin (caution) 62nd minute
USA – Justin Morrow (caution) 82