It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t impressive but in the end, almost the very end, the U.S. MNT got the 3-0 victory that it had to have over Guatemala to move on to the Gold Cup Quarterfinals as the top team in Group B.
Having been forced to wait patiently through the first 180 minutes of U.S. Gold Cup action, center back Matt Miazga provided the late game heroics for the Americans with a diving header in the 88th minute.
Panama’s brusque dismissal of the overachieving semi pros of Martinique earlier Saturday evening by a score of 3-0 had let the U.S. know that a win by three or more goals was required to top the group and avoid Costa Rica in the quarters.
Goals from Joe Corona and Kelyn Rowe, both deflected, brought the U.S. within one goal of the target but when Dom Dwyer and then Corona each missed from the penalty spot just minutes apart, a showdown with the Ticos beginning to seem a certainty.
Bill Hamid came up with a huge save in the latter stages of the second half, part of a confident performance by the DC United netminder to keep his end of the 3-0 bargain on the board.
Then came Miazga’s moment. It wasn’t his moment alone, however, the 21-year-old defender had help from Juan Agudelo and Graham Zusi. First Agudelo put the moves on the Nicaragua defense, drawing a reckless tackle on Luis Copete who was already on a yellow and was promptly given his marching orders.
Meanwhile, a second Nicaragua player had left the field for treatment of an injury, leaving the U.S. with a two man advantage and a free kick in a dangerous area.
Zusi delivered a perfect cross from the free kick into that thinned out Nicaragua defense and Miazga launched his 6’4” frame to meet the ball with a textbook diving header.
With “A” listers Tim Howard and Michael Bradley looking on from the stands at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium the U.S. “B” team struggled to improve on their poor Gold Cup beginnings in a dour first half.
Things improved on the re-start and the U.S. received strong performances from Rowe, Hamid, two assist man Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Pontius, Miazga and Matt Besler to finish out Group play with a record of two wins and one tie from the three matches.
Up next The Yanks will face either Honduras or El Salvador with a chance to get to the semifinals, leaving Panama to go up against Costa Rica.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 2 3
NCA 0 0 0
USA – Joe Corona (Alejandro Bedoya) 37th minute
USA – Kelyn Rowe (Alejandro Bedoya) 56
USA – Matt Miazga (Graham Zusi) 88
USA: 12-Bill Hamid; 19-Graham Zusi, 4-Matt Miazga, 5-Matt Besler, 2-Jorge Villafaña; 13-Dax McCarty; 7-Chris Pontius, 11-Alejandro Bedoya (capt.), 10-Joe Corona (8-Jordan Morris, 66), 6-Kelyn Rowe (20-Paul Arriola, 62); 14-Dom Dwyer (18-Juan Agudelo, 74)
Subs not used: 1-Brad Guzan, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 9-Gyasi Zardes; 15-Eric Lichaj, 16-Justin Morrow; 17-Cristian Roldan, 21-Matt Hedges, 22-Sean Johnson, 23-Kellyn Acosta
Head coach: Bruce Arena
NCA: 1-Justo Lorente; 2-Josue Quijano, 22-Cyril Errington, 6-Luis Copete, 17-Bismarck Véliz (4-Henry Niño, 69); 13-Bryan García (14-Eulises Pavón, 69),8-Marlon López, 19-Luis Peralta (21-Jorge Hurtado, 46); 11-Juan Barrera; 9-Daniel Cadena, 10-Luis Galeano
Subs not used: 23-Henry Maradiaga, 12-Diedrich Téllez, 20-Oscar López, 3-Manuel Rosas, 5-Erick Tellez, 16-Elvis Figueroa, 18-Maykel Montiel, 15-Bismarck Montiel
Not Available: 7-Carlos Chavarría
Head Coach: Henry Duarte
Stats Summary: USA / NCA
Shots: 16 / 6
Shots on Goal: 10 / 2
Saves: 2 / 7
Corner Kicks: 6 / 5
Fouls: 16 / 14
Offside: 3 / 4
NCA – Luis Peralta (caution) 15th minute
NCA – Marlon Lopez (caution) 42
NCA – Luis Copete (caution) 51
USA – Joe Corona (caution) 59
NCA – Luis Copete (caution) 85
NCA – Luis Copete (sent off) 85