The 2017 Gold Cup group stage concludes tomorrow for the United States, as they take on Nicaragua at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The USMNT needs a result to secure their 1st or 2nd position in Group B and advance to the quarterfinals in Philadelphia. With Panama and Martinique playing before the United States, they will know exactly what they need to do to advance. There are a few scenarios here, but one scenario is for sure: beat Nicaragua and advance.
Nicaragua is the team that occupies the bottom of Group B after a 2-0 loss to Martinique and a close 2-1 loss to Panama. They played Panama tough and even had a lead (though it lasted for about 90 seconds). They run around and they take a lot of shots, though many of them don’t end up on target. While they’ve had poor form of late, they have the ability to create the kind of havoc inside the box that leads to scoring opportunities.
W (3-2) – Martinique – Gold Cup Group B
D (1-1) - Panama – Gold Cup Group B
W (2-1) - Ghana - Friendly
D (1-1) - Mexico - WCQ
W (2-0) – Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
L (1-2) – Panama – Gold Cup Group B
L (0-2) – Martinique – Gold Cup Group B
D (0-0) – Curaçao - Friendly
L (2-3) – Bolivia - Friendly
L (0-1) – Bolivia - Friendly
What to Watch for
Attacking the final third: The USMNT is the better team, and they need to show that by expressing their dominance in the final third. Attack the Nicaraguan defense and they eventually fold. We have the speed and the creativity, but so far it has been inconsistent. Turning the ball over in the final third doesn’t help. Limiting those turnovers and finding open positions on the flank to set up a scoring chance is exactly what needs to happen. Also, they can’t mess around in the final third. Attack, attack, attack and we will score, score, score.
De-fense! (clap clap) De-fense! (clap clap): Nicaragua just scored their first ever Gold Cup goal Wednesday night against Panama, but they also take a lot of shots. Therefore, the defense must be vigilant in not allowing any rogue opportunities to benefit Nicaragua. Play a clean game defensively, and it will spur everything else. Make no mistake about it, if you want to win the group, they should be focused on keeping the sheet clean. That shouldn’t be difficult, but the defense can’t fall asleep.
Take advantage of corners: With so many players on the USMNT that can head the ball, corners should be to our advantage. We haven’t been consistent on how we play corners, sometimes employing the short corner while other times trying to send it far post on the fly. But, there will be plenty of chances from the corner to get shots on frame, and the USMNT needs to really concentrate on that. It’s been ages since we’ve seen a goal off a corner kick for the Americans, but they will have to put pressure on the net off straight headers or passes into the box. Nicaragua’s defense will not be up for the task if we pepper them with shots. Corner kicks will be a great way to do that
Lineups have been hard to peg with Bruce Arena’s desire to rotate his players to keep them fresh. But, with a date in the quarterfinals on the line, I think Bruce will go with what has been the best players that have produced thus far in the Gold Cup. That means a 4-4-2 formation.
At goal, Brad Guzan will remain the starter and the captain. On defense, Arena will likely go with a center back pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges, with Jorge Villafana and Graham Zusi back at left back and right back, respectively. In this match, he’s going to go with some of the guys he trusts to get the job done, and while I would prefer to see Eric Lichaj at right back, this is probably the better bet.
In the midfield, the tandem of Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty will likely return in the middle, with Paul Arriola on the left wing and Kelyn Rowe on the right. Finally, I think to score goals, Dom Dwyer will return to the lineup and serve as the holding striker, while Jordan Morris will try to build on the brace he had against Martinique.
Ok, so my last prediction was bold and terribly incorrect, but this time around I think I got it nailed. A win sees the USMNT through to the quarterfinals as the winner of Group B, and the team will get it done. With goals from Dom Dwyer and Matt Hedges, the USMNT beat Nicaragua 2-0 and advance to Philadelphia as Group B kings.
That’s my guess...what’s yours? Hit the comments to discuss your picks!