New U.S. men's coach Bruce Arena has added some familiar faces to the team's roster for the knockout stages of the 2017 Gold Cup.
Chelsea defender Matt Miazga hadn't played a single second of soccer in the Gold Cup before getting the start against Nicaragua.
While it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops at FirstEnergy Stadium, the home of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, there were more than enough positives on Saturday to at least partially wash away the sour taste of Wednesday in Tampa.
The European-based players who usually play for the national team have been given time off from their national team duties until World Cup qualifying resumes September 1 against Costa Rica. The US lacked cohesion for most of the match, and Corona's goal, which counted but wasn't altogether pretty, served as a good encapsulation of the performance. "But it was a game where we wasted some opportunities and made things hard on ourselves".
The game concludes group play for both teams in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the biennial championship of the North American, Central American and Caribbean region.
For a time it looked as if they wouldn't get there, but Chelsea defender Miazga's 88th minute header spared the Americans from a quarter-final date with risky Costa Rica. The shot took a brutal deflection off of Nicaragua's Bismarck Veliz and sneaked past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Justo Lorente. Corona made a few defenders slip and fall and took a shot off his back foot, the shot skipped across the field, and skimmed past the goalie making the U.S. lead 1-0 in the 36th minute.
The US could have enjoyed an even greater margin of victory, but Dom Dwyer and Corona saw second half penalties saved.
That said, the decision to send Roldan, Rowe and Dwyer back to their clubs is surprising.
After earning his first National Team call-up in late-June, Rowe made his worldwide debut in a 2-1 win to Ghana on Jul. 1. There was still work to do. Bedoya exchanged passes with Dwyer, then fed Rowe, who scored with the outside of his boot from inside the penalty area.
Five minutes later, the Americans made no mistakes.
The biggest difference? The U.S. easily won possession whenever Nicaragua was on the ball. That's when a certain 22 year-old who is still under contract at Chelsea stamped his authority on the worldwide stage. With it looking like the United States might end up finishing second in group play to Panama on goal difference, Miazga scored on a header from a free kick in the 88th minute to grab hold of the group and ensure the USMNT finished on top.
And with the US needing a goal late, Matt Miazga, in his first senior start, was the one to step up. The shot was at a good height, came in at a good pace, and was too far inside the post to cause him any trouble.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya echoed this sentiment afterwards: "They came at us, they tried to pressure us". But just like against Panama and Martinique, the USA did enough to get the job done.
That goal came at the 88th minute - oh, what drama.
It was a match the USA expected to win easily, but their opponents didn't make it so.
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