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Gold Cup 2017: Panama Victorious over Nicaragua, USMNT Takes Top Spot in Group B

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2017

TAMPA, FL - JULY 12: Ismael Diaz of Panama celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-1  during the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group B match between Panama and Nicaragua at Raymond James Stadium on July 12, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

The 2017 Gold Cup continued Wednesday, with the second round of fixtures in Group B kicking off in Tampa, Florida.

Martinique entered the day atop the group after beating Nicaragua 2-0. The United States and Panama each earned a point in a 1-1 draw.

On Wednesday, Martinique will look to remain in first place against the United States, while Panama and Nicaragua began play.

Below is an overview of Wednesday's results, with the full schedule and group standings available on the Gold Cup's official site.

     

Panama 2, Nicaragua 1

John Raoux/Associated Press

Panama moved into first place—only temporarily—with a 2-1 victory over Nicaragua.

The match was shaping up to be a defensive struggle after the two countries went scoreless in the first half. Then they combined for three goals over a nine-minute stretch of the second half.

Carlos Chavarria put Nicaragua on the board first in the 48th minute before Ismael Diaz delivered an equalizer to Panama two minutes later.

The Nicaraguan defense was unable to dispossess Miguel Camargo in the 18-yard box before he slid a pass across to Diaz, who beat Justo Lorente with a left-footed shot into the top corner. Fox Soccer shared a replay of Panama's opener:

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FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

Nicaragua held the lead for less than 2 minutes! Here's how Panama equalized. @ModeloUSA #ModeloSoccer #GoldCup2017 https://t.co/gVGdzhoAP8

In the 57th minute, Gabriel Torres provided the go-ahead goal for Panama. Roderick Miller had the assist, with his right-footed pass finding Torres in front of an open goal:

A second straight defeat could prove extremely costly for Nicaragua. The two best third-place teams will reach the quarterfinals, so Nicaragua still have an opportunity to advance to the knockout rounds. But they're in last place with only one more round of fixtures to go.

Even if they beat the United States on Saturday, that might not be enough to get out of Group B.

Panama, on the other hand, are sitting far more comfortably. Honduras are third in Group A with a point through two matches, so four points may be all it takes to earn a quarterfinal bid should Panama lose to Martinique in their final group stage match.  

     

United States 3, Martinique 2

John Raoux/Associated Press

The United States threw away a two-goal lead, but Jordan Morris' 76th-minute goal was the difference in a 3-2 win for the U.S. men's national team.

Morris commented on the result:

Jordan Morris @JmoSmooth13

Great team win! And congrats to my boy @CristianRoldan on his first cap. Proud of you man many more to come! #USMNT #🇺🇸🇺🇸

Morris' winner came immediately after Kevin Parsemain tied the match at 2-2. Immediately after the kickoff, Morris hit a through ball ahead to Gyasi Zardes, who returned the favor and found the Seattle Sounders striker running to the edge of the six-yard box:

Nobody may be happier with Morris' second goal than USMNT coach Bruce Arena. Drawing with Martinique would've been a poor result, even with what is a weaker national team roster. Some fans are likely to still be critical of the performance despite the United States taking all three points.

As the U.S. went scoreless in the first half, Yahoo Sports' Leander Schaerlaeckens summed up the general sentiment among many supporters:

Leander Schaerlaeckens @LeanderAlphabet

The USMNT is playing a national team that, as far as FIFA is concerned, doesn't really exist. And it's struggling to create quality chances.

The Washington Post's Steven Goff thought it was at least a learning experience for Arena:

Steven Goff @SoccerInsider

Uninspiring performance by #usmnt. Arena learning a lot about his Gold Cup 2nd unit. Sink or swim? Sink. Now got to find way to win match.

The fact the USMNT scored three times—and that Morris accounted for two of them—will be heartening for Arena. Striker has often been a weal spot for the national team.

Morris is one of the United States' most promising players at the position, and the combination of he and Christian Pulisic could be the spearhead of the country's attack for years to come.

With regard to the Gold Cup, the win essentially puts one foot into the knockout stage for the USMNT. The United States have yet to secure a knockout stage berth, but they're sitting atop Group B, having scored one more goal than Panama.

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