Wednesday’s Gold Cup Group B doubleheader went according to plan in terms of the final result, but it wasn’t easy for either winning team.
Panama and the USMNT both came away with three points, though both needed some second half heroics. The Panamanians scored two unanswered after falling behind 1-0 to knock off Nicaragua 2-1. Meanwhile, the US blew a 2-0 second half lead in giving up two in a ten minute span to Martinique. But a Jordan Morris goal in the final 15 minutes sealed a 3-2 win.
Gold Cup Group B in Tampa: Panama and USMNT Hold Serve in Unconvincing Fashion
Panama’s Finishing Comes Alive After Early Second Half Scare
Panama came into this game riding high after a well-earned 1-1 draw with the USMNT on Saturday where they outplayed the favored Yanks at times. And their history against Nicaragua indicated that three points in Wednesday’s tie appeared to be the most likely outcome. In 24 previous meetings with La Azul y Blanco, Los Canaleros won 19 and lost only five. But it did include a 1-0 defeat in their last matchup on March 15, 2016.
In the first half, Panama dominated most of the key stats. They owned a nearly 16 percent edge in possession and outshot Nicaragua 6-2. But finishing their chances around net proved an elusive proposition. The biggest example came from midfielder Yoel Bárcenas who missed a sitter right in front of goal in the 30th minute.
That lack of finishing quality meant the two sides went into the locker room for halftime knotted up 0-0.
Things certainly opened up right out of the gate for the second stanza. Three minutes in, Panama tried to clear the ball out of their box. But the ball came right to Nicaragua’s Carlos Chavarria. The Real Estelí man, one of nine players on the team’s Gold Cup roster who plays with Nicaragua’s most high profile club, blasted it at net from outside the box. Panama goalkeeper José Calderón didn’t have much of a chance keeping it out of his goal.
Chavarria’s tally marked Nicaragua’s first ever goal in Gold Cup competition. The team previously qualified for the tournament just once in 2009 but were held scoreless in three group games.
Suddenly, Panama stared at a rather surprising upset considering how well they played in their group opener. But it didn’t take long for them to bounce back and get back in this one. With Nicaragua looking a bit disorganized in the aftermath of their goal, the Panamanians pounced.
Miguel Camargo quickly ran into the left side of the box and squared the ball inside. The pass found Ismael Díaz who stood unmarked about 12 yards away from goal and one-timed it into the upper 90 for the equalizer in the 50th minute. Camargo, who plays for NYCFC in MLS, added an assist to his Gold Cup account after scoring the lone goal for Panama against the US.
Not long thereafter in the 57th minute, Los Canaleros reasserted their hold on the game. This time, it was Gabriel Torres’ turn to take advantage of lax marking in the box on the part of Nicaragua. The former Colorado Rapids designated player tapped in a Roderick Miller pass from the left to give his team a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
With the victory, Panama temporarily moved to first place in Group B. They also erased an eight-game run of not winning a Gold Cup match in regulation going back to July 24, 2013. Then, they upset Mexico 2-1 en route to the final that year where they lost to the US.
USMNT Get Late Jordan Morris Goal to Avoid Shock Draw Against Martinique
Given the heat and humidity in Nashville and the prospect of similar sweltering conditions in Tampa, a fairly new look starting XI against Martinique was expected. Manager Bruce Arena did that and then some with the lineup, making eight changes from Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Panama.
Just goalkeeper Brad Guzan, center back Omar Gonzalez, and box-to-box midfielder Kellyn Acosta reprised their starting role. Defenders Matt Hedges and Justin Morrow as well as midfielders Christian Roldan and Paul Arriola made their first ever Gold Cup appearance.
Not surprisingly, the Stars and Stripes dictated tempo early on. Gyasi Zardes pinged in a few promising crosses towards goal, one of which Jordan Morris came on to but hit wide in the 11th minute. Playing in a wide role on the left hand side, Zardes impressed throughout the first half. He provided a great deal of quality service and led the team with four total shots and two on target.
Overall, most of the action in the first 45 took place in Martinique’s half of the field. The US enjoyed over 68 percent possession completed over 140 more passes than their Caribbean opponents. But Martinique were opportunistic on the counter and managed six shots, just two fewer than the US.
It included a near disastrous sequence in the 32nd minute. The Martiniquais brought the ball into the US box with Kevin Parsemain wide open to the right of goal. His attempt to give his team a shock advantage just missed as it glanced off the post.
In the end, the opening 45 concluded much like the earlier game between Panama and Nicaragua all knotted up at zero.
Almost immediately out of the locker room, the US nearly broke the deadlock. After Juan Agudelo’s shot from outside the box took a deflection high into the air, Arriola beat Martinique goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa to the ball. But his half volley caromed off the cross bar and another opportunity went begging.
That had to have precipitated a snake-bit feeling among the US attacking players. Chances came and went with the inability to finish said chances a maddening reality. The overarching narrative was fast becoming “lots of possession, very little purpose.”
So of course the breakthrough came off the foot of one of the USMNT center backs. After an Acosta corner kick got deflected out of the box, Arriola hit it at goal and Olimpa parried it but right in front of goal. And Gonzalez was there to tap it in with a poacher’s finish to make it 1-0 USMNT in the 54th minute.
The US doubled the lead via Morris ten minutes after Gonzalez’s tally. The Seattle Sounders striker made a well-timed run in between two Martinique defenders and deftly put the ball past Olimpa near post. Suddenly it looked as if the US would cruise to a convincing win.
But Parsemain had different plans. The 29-year-old who plays domestically for Golden Lion looked goal dangerous all game. Two minutes after Morris’ tally, he collected the ball just outside the 18 and fired it towards the lower right hand portion of the goal. Guzan got a piece of it but it trickled underneath him and suddenly the US led just 2-1.
Much like the US earlier in the half, Martinique scored goal number two ten minutes after their first. And once again, it was Parsemain who beat Guzan for a shock equalizer. If it ended like this, even more question marks would envelop this US side in comparison to their draw against Panama on Saturday.
But the Stars and Stripes responded. They cycled the ball right back into the attacking third, with Zardes doing what he excelled at all game: giving the US exceptional width with his service from out left. His cross found a wide open Morris who made no mistake finding the upper 90 to put the US back on top for good.
The two results from Tampa means the US and Panama are now even on points and goal differential. But the Stars and Stripes currently own the tiebreaker due to a higher number of goals scored. Nevertheless, neither of these two performances from the US have been particularly convincing. And even if they take the group, vast improvement in the knockout round is necessary if they want to emerge with the trophy come July 26.
The Gold Cup Group B finale takes place Saturday at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. Panama takes on Martinique in the opening game (4:30 PM ET, FS2) while the USMNT’s final group game against Nicaragua follows (7 PM ET, FXX).