The U.S. men’s national team eyes first place in its Gold Cup group when taking on Nicaragua for the first time in both nations’ soccer histories when they meet in Cleveland. (7 p.m. ET; FXX, Univision).
The Americans are 1-0-1 through two games in Group B, but it’s been an unconvincing four points after a draw against Panama and a tougher-than-expected battle against Martinique. Jordan Morris’s late goal preserved the important 3-2 victory, though, and as long as the USA keeps pace with Panama and maintains the tiebreaker by securing at least a three-goal win, it’ll avoid a quarterfinal clash against Group A winner Costa Rica.
Bruce Arena confirmed prior to the game that he would be making a staggering 11 changes to the USA lineup from the one that started against Martinique, ensuring a full line change against his Central American opponent. Carlos Chavarria, the scorer of Nicaragua’s lone goal in the competition, is suspended for the match due to card accumulation, making things more favorable for the Americans.
The USA, knowing it needs goals, pressured from the onset trying to find Dom Dwyer behind the back line. Dwyer, who scored in a pre-Gold Cup friendly vs. Ghana and again in the opener vs. Panama, is seeking to become the third player in U.S. history to score in his opening three caps.
It was Kelyn Rowe who put the USA’s first chance on frame, firing a volley from the edge of the box on frame only to have it saved in the ninth minute.
Nicaragua found a couple of half-chances in a short spurt a few minutes later, with Luis Galeano forcing a Dax McCarty turnover and firing from long range, sending his chance well wide of Bill Hamid’s goal.
On the ensuing U.S. possession, the Americans nearly struck twice, with Alejandro Bedoya’s blocked chance then followed up by a Dwyer chance which also was blocked before it could be sent on frame.
A minute later, Rowe fired again from long distance, trying to catch goalkeeper Justo Lorente napping, but he put his 20-yard chance into the side netting.
Graham Zusi had the USA’s best chance the early going in the 21st minute, completing a winding run through Nicaragua’s midfield and defense only to put his left-footed blast right at Lorente, who made a confident save.
Off a U.S. set piece, Chris Pontius tried an audacious bicycle kick, but he directed it wide of the net–and was whistled for a high boot–and the match remained scoreless.
The USA took a needed lead in the 37th minute through Joe Corona. Bedoya set him up with a cutback cross from the right, and Corona took his time, weaved around defenders and had a deflected shot beat Lorente to give the USA a 1-0 lead.
The U.S. blew a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second half after Dwyer was taken down in the box. He had his ensuing penalty kick saved by Lorente, with his powerful attempt put out of play.
The Americans found that second goal soon after, though, and it came through Rowe. Bedoya sprung him down the left channel with a pinpoint pass, and his deflected shot from close range beat Lorente to make it 2-0 in the 56th minute.
Just after the hour mark, again the USA had a chance to score from the penalty spot, and again it was denied. This time it was Corona who took the spot kick after a sliding defender handled the ball when trying to mark Bedoya, but his poor effort was hit right at Lorente, who also denied Pontius’s chance on the rebound.
Nicaragua put a rare chance on frame in the 74th minute through Jorge Hurtado, who had a rip from distance earmarked for the lower left-hand corner, but Hamid was all over it, making a diving save and covering the rebound.
Here are the lineups for both sides:
Stay tuned here for more updates and highlights of goals and key plays throughout this group finale.
Here are the rosters for both teams:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
GOALKEEPERS: Justo Lorente (UNAN FC), Henry Maradiaga (Real Estelí FC), Diedrich Tellez (Diriangen FC)
DEFENDERS: Luis Copete (Comerciantes Unidos), Cyril Errington (Real Estelí FC), Oscar Lopez (Managua FC), Henry Niño (Jaco Rays FC), Josue Quijano (Real Estelí FC), Manuel Rosas (Real Estelí FC), Erick Tellez (Diriangen FC), Bismarck Veliz (Chinandega FC)
MIDFIELDERS: Daniel Cadena (Njarðvíkur), Elvis Figueroa (Real Estelí FC), Luis Galeano (Real Estelí FC), Bryan Garcia (Real Estelí FC), Marlon Lopez (Real Estelí FC), Maykel Montiel (UNAN FC), Bismarck Montiel (Managua FC), Luis Peralta (CD Walter Ferretti)
FORWARDS: Juan Barrera (Comunicaciones FC), Carlos Chavarria (Real Estelí FC), Jorge Hurtado (CD Walter Ferretti), Eulises Pavon (CD Suchitepéquez)