There is a surprising leader in the Group B standings after the first set of matches at the 2017 Gold Cup.
The United States men's national team was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against Panama Saturday in a disappointing opening effort at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
This allowed Martinique to take control of the group with a 2-0 win over Nicaragua. Martinique—a country that isn't even allowed to qualify for the World Cup—now has three points after its first match while USA and Panama each have one point. Nicaragua sits in last place with zero points.
There is still plenty of time for movement with two more matches for each team in the group stage, but the first day showed nothing is guaranteed for the top squads.
USA 1, Panama 1
Panama fought back from an early deficit to claim a draw, which represents a relative surprise for the Americans.
Danny Michallik of ESPN FC provided this note:
Considering these are likely the two best teams in the group, both sides should expect better for the rest of this stage.
With that said, both squads could be disappointed in the finish with plenty of opportunities to come away with the win. After a scoreless first half, there was a lot more aggressiveness in the second.
Dom Dwyer gave the United States an early lead with a goal in the 50th minute, coming off a beautiful setup by Kelyn Rowe:
Julie Stewart-Binks of ESPN broke down the opening goal:
The deficit seemed to ignite Panama, who created several opportunities over the next few minutes in an attempt to equalize the match.
Panama finally broke through in the 60th minute against an unorganized U.S. defense. Brad Guzan made the immediate stop, but Miguel Camargo was there for the rebound:
This ended up being the only scoring in what was otherwise a sloppy battle of relatively inexperienced rosters.
The first half was extremely quiet, with neither team able to take advantage of the limited opportunities. The defenses held their ground and prevented any easy shots on net.
Ives Galarcep of Goal summed up the level of play:
There was a lot more action in the second half, but poor passing in the final third limited the Americans' chances, while Panama simply couldn't get its best looks on net.
Rowe, Guzan and Joe Corona provided some highlights in the effort, although it's clear this squad is a step lower than the "A" team.
Both teams will continue their Gold Cup run on Wednesday from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida. Panama will take on Nicaragua, followed by the United States matchup against Martinique.
With just three matches in the group stage, there is a lot of pressure on both squads to get a win.
Martinique 2, Nicaragua 0
The first match of the Gold Cup went about as well as possible for Martinique, which got the better of Nicaragua.
Kevin Parsemain scored the first goal, while Steeven Langil put it out of reach for the 2-0 win.
Although Martinique only took two more shots than Nicaragua (19-17), 11 went on net compared to just four from their counterpart. This helped make the difference in what became an easy victory.
After the first match of the day featured relatively conservative play early, there was plenty of action in this battle right from the opening kick.
The sides flew back and forth down the field with several quality opportunities for each, although it took some time for either to get onto the scoresheet.
Martinique finally broke through in the 35th minute with a header by their best player:
Parsemain simply rose above the defenders to direct the ball into the back of the net.
The score remained 1-0 through halftime, with Nicaragua fortunate to keep things close. Justo Lorente stopped several quality shots to prevent what could have been a blowout.
John Bava III of LastWordOnSoccer.com broke down the performance:
Just like Tim Howard, however, the opposing onslaught ended up being too much to handle.
Langil came in at the 65th minute and scored one minute later, using an outstanding individual effort to find the back of the net. Univision Deportes captured the goal:
This doubled the lead, which was enough for Martinique to sit back and control the rest of the match.
Things will be more difficult for Martinique in the next match against the United States, but the win was a big step toward advancing to the knockout stage.
Considering this is just the third-ever victory for the national team in five Gold Cup appearances, it was a significant three points.