The U.S MNT play Nicaragua Saturday night in Cleveland with a place in the knockout stages of the 2017 Gold Cup firmly in their own control. Failure to advance would be something of a catastrophe for Bruce Arena and his squad which has variously been labeled a “B” or “C” team.
Call it “B” or call it “C” the group so far has earned a D minus or an F for its performances in a 1-1 draw in the first game against Panama and a narrow 3-2 victory over the semi-professionals representing Martinique.
With World Cup Qualification his number one priority Arena elected to have his “A” team rest up for more important matches come September, affording this group an opportunity to impress, an opportunity all but a few have failed to grasp.
Goal scorers Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris are the obvious exceptions, although a couple of others, Kellyn Rowe, Eric Lichaj, Juan Agudelo, have caught the eye to varying degrees.
In the Group B opener against Panama, by far the highest rated of the Americans first round opponents, Arena stayed with the majority of the side that had shown promise in a 2-1 friendly victory over Ghana on September 1.
Arena changed out eight of that side, we’ll call the game one team the “B” team, for the Martinique match. The “B” team coughed up a 1-0 lead provided by Dwyer, while the “C’s” failed to hold a 2-0 lead after Omar Gonzalez and Morris had tallied and needed a second Morris strike to put down Martinique, which as an Overseas Region of France is not recognized by FIFA.
The midfield, anchored by Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta failed to click in game one, the defense was suspect in game two, with Matt Hedges especially out of sorts.
So, how will Arena approach the Nicaragua match? The Albiazules have lost both of its Gold Cup games, improving in a 2-1 defeat to Panama after being shutout 2-0 by Martinique in the opener.
Arena downplayed his team’s poor performance against Martinique, praising several players, including three of his back four- leaving out Hedges- Morris, Agudelo, debutant Christian Roldan, and Gyasi Zardes, who was wildly inconsistent on the night.
Brad Guzan was left unmentioned when the U.S. coach was handing out verbal bouquets, perhaps his hash up on the Martinique goal was to blame. Guzan played well outside of that blunder, as he did against Panama but it will be interesting to see if Arena gives Bill Hamid or Sean Johnson a turn between the pipes on Saturday.
Central defender Matt Miazga is the only field player that has yet to see action, will the Chelsea Loan Ranger get the nod versus Nicaragua? Maybe Arena will employ the three back set that worked against Mexico. Very different opponent, to be sure but Arena can’t be pleased with the results from the 4-2-3-1 (Panama) and the 4-4-2 (Martinique) so we will see.
Assuming the Americans advance teams can make up to six changes after the group stages are complete and given what the team has shown so far several new faces should be expected.
Below are the lineups from the first two games.
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 19-Graham Zusi, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 5-Matt Besler, 2-Jorge Villafaña; 13-Dax McCarty, 23-Kellyn Acosta; 11-Alejandro Bedoya (capt.) (8-Jordan Morris, 85), 10-Joe Corona (18-Juan Agudelo, 62), 6-Kelyn Rowe (9-Gyasi Zardes, 69); 14-Dom Dwyer
Substitutes not used: 12-Bill Hamid, 22-Sean Johnson, 4-Matt Miazga, 7-Chris Pontius , 15-Eric Lichaj, 16-Justin Morrow, 17-Cristian Roldan, 20-Paul Arriola, 21-Matt Hedges
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