When people ask what it means if a game “wasn’t pretty,” you can show them the United States Men’s National Team’s 3-2 win over Martinique in the 2017 Gold Cup. Jordan Morris’ second goal of the night rescued the U.S. after it blew a 2-0 lead against the tiny island territory in the second half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Omar Gonzalez scored the first goal to snap a frustrating scoreless tie in the second half, and Morris added his first as the USMNT seemingly took control. But sloppy defense and goalkeeping allowed Martinique to draw level before Morris pushed the U.S. back in front and the Yanks were able to hold on, although not too convincingly.
In the end, however, all that matters for now is the result, which pushed the U.S. ahead of Panama on top of Group B based on goals scored.
Bruce Arena changed his team significantly from Saturday’s Gold Cup opener against Panama, slotting in Justin Morrow, Matt Hedges, Omar Gonzalez, and Eric Lichaj across the back line in front of Brad Guzan in a 4-4-2 formation. His midfield of (L-R) Gyasi Zardes, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan (in his first USMNT cap), and Paul Arriola sat behind a strike force of Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris.
The first half was mostly an uneventful series of U.S. possessions that didn’t really amount to much. Zardes had a couple of decent crosses from the left wing early but one was just a smidge too far for Agudelo at the back post and one arrived at Morris at the same time as goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa and the Sounders star couldn’t get a clean touch on it to direct it home.
Morris got a head on an Acosta free kick in the 11th minute but his effort went just wide of the back post. Zardes got into the top of the box in the 20th minute but his shot sailed high into the wet Tampa night. Agudelo set Zardes up with a pass at the top of the box in the 30th minute but it was a poor effort as the Galaxy man got nothing on the attempt, which dribbled right to Olimpa. He had a better strike a minute later but it was again straight at Olimpa.
After that, the final 15 minutes of the opening half belonged to Martinique. Kevin Parsemain got into the box on the left in the 32nd minute but fired wide into the side netting. Seconds later he hit the post on the right side after shaky defending from Hedges.
After a series of U.S. corners that never really threatened goal, Stephane Abaul got a free header on a corner kick but sent it just wide in the 43rd. A minute later, Parsemain forced a good save from Guzan. Martinique took all the momentum into the locker room at the break, despite the 0-0 score line.
The second half saw the game open up considerably.
Three minutes after the restart, the U.S. nearly found a breakthrough when Agudelo had a shot blocked. Arriola was the first to it but he hit his shot off the crossbar. At 51’, Guzan was forced to make a save on the line as Yoann Arquin got his head on a looping cross into the area and directed it on goal. A minute later, Olimpa made a huge save on Morris’ chip attempt on a 2-v-1 break and the rebound popped up in the air and right back to the Martinique keeper. At 53’, Arriola got in behind the defense and struck a shot on frame that Olimpa parried out for a corner, which led to the first goal of the game.
The cross was deflected to Arriola above the box and the midfielder fired it toward the net. It took a deflection and popped up at Olimpa, who parried it with a reaction save. The ball fell perfectly for Gonzalez to kick in for his second career international goal.
Just 11 minutes later, at 64’, the U.S. doubled the lead. Lichaj made a good run down the right channel and fizzed a cross in for Morris at the near post. A slight touch from the Seattle forward was all the ball needed to deflect in for a 2-0 lead.
The two-goal lead didn’t last long.
Two minutes after Morris’ first goal, Martinique struck back. Parsemain turned and fired from outside the box and Guzan should have had it but it got past him and gave the visitors life at the 66-minute mark.
Second-half sub Alejandro Bedoya missed a couple of opportunities to restore the two-goal advantage. In the 69th minute, he took a Morris cross and fired but had his shot deflected out by the defense for a corner. In the 73rd, it was Morrow finding Bedoya but he missed the target badly.
Those misses came back to haunt the U.S. just two minutes later.
Hedges got beat down the flank and a cross in found its way to the far side, where Guzan was forced to make a kick save on the initial shot but he couldn’t keep out the follow-up from Johan Audel, which took a deflection and crept in for the equalizer in the 75th minute.
With a quarter of an hour left, the U.S. needed a goal to avoid embarrassment and Morris delivered. It took only one minute for the Yanks to respond.
Zardes got loose down the left, where he’d been at his most threatening all night, and cut back a cross near the penalty spot. Morris ran onto it and buried his shot to make it 3-2.
Martinique never quit, and nearly equalized again in the 81st minute. Sebastien Cretinoir got a free header in the box but missed just wide. Cretinoir put the ball in the net a couple of minutes later when Guzan was late off his line and got beat to an aerial ball. The flag was up before the ball crossed the line, but it was a second flub for Guzan on the night.
Morris nearly completed his hat trick in the 89th when he cut inside and unleashed a shot but it was right at Olimpa, who made a comfortable save. From there, the U.S. wasted the three minutes of stoppage time and held on for a much-needed win, albeit not one that will fill many U.S. fans with confidence moving forward into the tournament.
Arena survived playing his Gold Cup B team and the Yanks climbed to the top of the group. The United States will close out group play against Nicaragua, which scored its first ever Gold Cup goal tonight but ultimately lost to Panama, 2-1. The game will take place on Saturday at 7 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH.