In the final game of Group B action at the 2017 Gold Cup, the U.S. men's national team put together a much-improved performance in a 3-0 victory over Nicaragua Saturday.
With Panama's 3-0 victory over Martinique earlier in the day, Team USA knew coming into the showdown with Nicaragua it needed to win by at least three goals to claim the top spot in Group B. The pressure was lessened since the U.S. had already secured a spot in the knockout phase.
Coming off Wednesday's close call against Martinique, United States head coach Bruce Arena took drastic action with an all-new starting lineup:
This was the first-ever meeting between the United States and Nicaragua. Both sides came out of the gate with a lot of energy, running at a fast pace and trying to wear the other down.
The U.S. finally broke through in the 36th minute thanks to Joe Corona, who navigated around three Nicaraguan defenders before getting off the shot that went into the corner of the goal:
While Corona showed tremendous skill on his goal, OptaJack showed some love to Alejandro Bedoya for his assist on the play:
That would be the only goal in the first half, leaving plenty of unrest for a United States team that has struggled to close things out so far in the Gold Cup. Panama forced a 1-1 draw in the first game of group play for both teams when Miguel Camargo scored in the 60th minute.
Martinique scored two goals in a span of eight minutes to square things 2-2 against the United States before Jordan Morris was able to bail the Americans out with the game-winning score in the 76th minute.
ESPN Stats & Info did note the U.S. had waited to do all of its scoring in the second half of this year's Gold Cup prior to Saturday:
With something having to give, the United States stepped up with the kind of effort it needed to build some confidence and momentum heading into the knockout phase.
Bedoya tallied his second assist when he set up Kelyn Rowe's first goal as a member of the United States national team in the 56th minute for a 2-0 advantage:
Matt Miazga would finish the U.S. scoring with a header following a terrific floater pass over Nicaraguan defenders from Graham Zusi:
If there is a nitpick from this win, Team USA did squander two penalty kicks in the second half that could have cost the team dearly if not for the late surge.
At this stage of group play, getting the win was the most important thing for the United States. Being able to take the top spot is an added bonus since it sets the team up for a third-place opponent in the quarterfinals.