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USA 3-2 Martinique, 2017 Gold Cup: An uncomfortable victory

Bruce’s Boys got the three points they needed, but it was anything but easy.

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup-USA at Panama Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. entered Wednesday’s game needing a victory after an opening draw against Panama and Los Canaleros taking their second game against Nicaragua to go top of the group. Arena seemed confident against tiny Martinique, fielding a starting XI that featured 8 changes from the side that drew with Panama, and handing several players their first competitive start for the U.S.

The first half could charitably be called “disjointed.” The U.S. came out early pushing for a goal, dominating possession and shots in the opening 20 minutes. Juan Agudelo was at the center of most good moves for the U.S., dropping into the midfield to receive passes and laying them off, usually to the feet of Paul Arriola and Gyasi Zardes. But the U.S. seemed frustrated by Martinique’s defense, trying to force the ball over the top or through the lines only to be stymied time and time again. As the half wore on, Martinique grew into the game, threatening Brad Guzan a few times. Kevin Parsemain looked closest to scoring, hitting the post after Guzan got the smallest of touches on his shot, and then forcing Guzan into another save after a mix-up between Eric Lichaj and Omar Gonzalez gifted Parsemain the ball 30 yards from goal. A late flurry of corners from the U.S. and an Arriola cross just missed by Zardes left the half, and most supporters of these United States of America, begging for some quality play.

The second half started just as lively as the first did, with Paul Arriola rattling the crossbar and Jordan Morris missing out on a goal via a great 1-on-1 save from keeper Olimpa. Rather fittingly, the breakthrough was found in messy fashion. After a mistake from Martinique let Paul Arriola in on goal to win a corner, a deflected shot from Arriola fell to the feet of Omar Gonzalez, who couldn’t miss from point blank range. The lead was soon doubled courtesy of Morris, who finished off a well-worked cross from Eric Lichaj. The U.S. looked to be cruising, finally.

That lasted all of a minute or two. Kevin Parsemain found himself inexplicably unmarked at the top of the box, and sent a bending ball toward Guzan’s near post. The ball slipped off Guzan’s hand and nestled into the back of the U.S. net. The shot was low and well-placed, but Guzan should have done better to save it. Martinique leveled the game after more poor U.S. defense, with Matt Hedges getting absolutely blown by in the midfield to give Martinique a 3 to 2 man advantage on the break. After a scrum in the box, Parsemain found the last touch (almost certainly on accident), and the Martinique sideline was in raptures.

That would be short-lived as well, however, as Jordan Morris restored the U.S. lead seconds later. Gyasi Zardes, who had worked hard all night but found most of his crosses and shots wanting, picked out Morris with an excellent cut back, and Morris finished from the penalty spot. Martinique continued to threaten for several minutes, but finally the substitute appearance of Dax McCarty managed to settle things down for the U.S., and they passed away the remainder of the time on the clock.

For Bruce Arena, the victory was welcome, but the performances were not. Agudelo and Morris turned in good games, and other looked generally solid-to-promising. But many players that fans had hoped could make the jump to the first-choice USMNT disappointed against Martinique. The defense looked threatened whenever they were presented with the mere prospect of an attack, the offense looked frustrated much of the time, and the midfield lacked composure on the ball. This team is still in good shape to qualify for the knockout round stages of the Gold Cup, and are currently top of the group. But if they want to win their first trophy since 2013, they’ll need reinforcements, fast.