The United States dug themselves into a bit of a hole with the games against Panama and Martinique. As a result, the USMNT came in today needing to at least match the margin of victory against Nicaragua as Panama did with Martinique in order to win the group. It turned out, that was three goals. And the team did it. They came in needing a three-nil victory (or better), and that’s exactly what they did.
I took them to task for how they played against Martinique, but they deserved that criticism. But they also deserve praise for coming up big when necessary. Sure, Nicaragua is the worst team in the group. But, they still did what they needed to do under pressure: be clutch. It says a lot that a reserve team like this can snatch exactly the result they needed. With that, let's talk about what we learned as the USMNT blew away Nicaragua.
Don't Count Out Alejandro Bedoya
I actually like Alejandro Bedoya. There, I said it. I know he's despised across the SSFC commentariat and twitter, but I actually like the guy. No, he's not some creative genius. No, he's not a sexy goal-scorer. And, no, he isn't the perfect human embodiment of a wrecking ball that completely destroys enemy attacks. He’s a cog, and a mighty one at that. Against Martinique, he had a mixed game. His positioning on the goals was suspect, but his movement was much more dynamic than the player he replaced (Kellyn Acosta). And he got a hockey-assist, to boot. Against Nicaragua, he stood out as a solid player. He assisted the first two goals, and did well to win the ball back to start the push towards the second goal. His positioning and his movement were good, and, as always, he hustled like a work horse. Bedoya doesn't belong awkwardly shoved on the wing. As a proper central midfielder, tasked with going box-to-box, he does the job that needs to be done without special flair. His partnership with Dax McCarty was the first time we saw a midfielder pairing properly click and the result supports that (granted, it was Nicaragua). It's a shame that Bedoya is leaving camp now that the group stage is over, as I think he's really solidified his place as a depth piece. That said, I think he'll be OK leaving on a couple of high notes, both on and off the field.
Dwyer Down, Agudelo Up
We've talked about it at length, but it was always going to come up again. The battle between Dom Dwyer, Juan Agudelo, and Jordan Morris over the fourth (and probably final) striker spot on the 2018 World Cup roster is intense. For this game, Dwyer started up top as the lone striker while Agudelo and Morris watched from the bench. But the Sporting Kansas City striker had a bit of a stinker. His touch repeatedly failed him and his passing was not sufficient. He was still his hard-battling self, even winning a (slightly dubious) penalty in the process. But those short comings just won't go away, and failing to score on a penalty does not help.
Morris and Agudelo seemed to make more of the opportunity. Morris came on in the 66th minute as a winger. I said in the post following the Martinique game that he might look more comfortable out wide, and it seemed he certainly made the most of it. He constantly looked to be fighting to assert himself in the game, making good runs and contesting with the Nicaraguan players.
Still, the real positive at forward was Juan Agudelo. It's clear what he brings to the national team: a target forward who is exceptionally clean on the ball and who can pass and distribute to create chances and sustain attacks. He only came on with about 15 minutes left, but he did absolute work. When he had the ball, it was as if it was gliding on his feet, answering every beck and call in a moment's notice. The run that led to the winning set piece was incredible. There is still the problem where he doesn't get those shots off. He doesn't scrap and scramble in the box like Morris and Dwyer, but he is great on the ball and his passing in the position is ahead of the rest of the pool, maybe surpassed only by Jozy Altidore.
Joe Corona is not a creative center attacking midfielder. He shouldn't be played there. Kelyn Rowe is not a winger. He's not completely wasted out wide, but his creativity would probably be better suited in the middle.
Bill Hamid is fine and Guzan almost certainly won't get a World Cup as a Starter.
Matt Miazga has almost all of the tools to be the starter for an international team. He reads the game well, he has the physicality, he's a good 1-on-1 defender, and he's good in the air. Today, his distribution looked improved, and he got a goal as the cherry on top. In a Gold Cup where most of the center backs have been decent (Omar Gonzalez) or bad (Matt Hedges), Miazga stood out as a tad bit more than adequate.
I don't know what to make of Graham Zusi. Do I want him on the field for the USMNT at this point? No. Was he a problem in this game? No. Was the first half great? No. Did he really stand out in the run of play? No. But, that free kick assist was pretty important, even if it came with Nicaragua short two players. I'm thinking I'll just make nothing of it, though feel free to have at it in the comments.