U.S. narrowly wins, shows worrying flaws in Gold Cup scare vs. Martinique
Given the B-list nature of the U.S. roster, this Gold Cup was bound to possess some good, some bad and some downright ugliness for the Americans. But Wednesday's 3-2 win over Martinique came dangerously close to humiliation.
It took a 76th-minute winner from Jordan Morris, his second goal of the night, to finally see off a game opponent. As such, the victory should provide little comfort to manager Bruce Arena and his players, who will be left red-faced from a match that should never have been so close.
Yes, soccer's low-scoring nature makes it ripe for upsets, and the potential for giant-killings is part of its appeal. Further, it can also make the expectation of a blowout a tad unrealistic.
None of that can be used as an excuse for this U.S. performance. We're talking about a team of full-time professionals going up against a group of semi-pros.
Does Martinique deserve some credit? Absolutely. It played with spirit and organization. But the Americans had the game seemingly under control, taking a 2-0 lead in the 64th minute when Morris scored his first. At which point, Arena's side showed a complete inability to manage the game.
For whatever reason, maintaining tempo -- especially when leading -- has been a problem from the Ghana friendly on July 1 to Panama on Saturday all the way to Wednesday.
Granted, goalkeeper Brad Guzan should have saved the first of Kevin Parsemain's two goals, but there were warning signs even before that, with Martinique hitting the post in the first half. And how is it that the U.S. coughs up an equalizer that started with a three-on-three counter-attack?
Sure, the U.S. roster lacks experience at the international level, but it also has logged plenty of domestic matches. Arena's understandable squad rotation -- there were eight changes from the Panama game -- could also be a factor. However, regardless of who is on the field, the U.S. ought to know how to manage a result against such a lowly opponent.
So two games into this tournament, the U.S. hasn't done much to distinguish itself. It has shown little consistency, both on a team and individual level. In fact, the performances of most players have alternated between frigid and scalding, oftentimes in the same game.
A case in point is Gyasi Zardes. The LA Galaxy midfielder did well in setting up Morris' winner with a smart cutback and, overall, was better in the second half. Zardes also had his share of suspect touches and poor passes.
Meanwhile, Matt Hedges, for all of his ability with the ball, struggled with his defending both in the air and on the ground, and was beaten in the run-up to Martinique's equalizer.
Even Eric Lichaj, who did his future prospects no harm, wasn't immune. He assisted on Morris' first goal thanks to a darting run, but was also guilty of a first-half giveaway that forced a sharp save from Guzan.
The group that has acquitted itself the best so far in the tournament is the forwards. Dom Dwyer, who was given the night off, has two goals this month while Juan Agudelo, who did start vs. Martinique, had the misfortune of being at his best when those around him were at their worst. Otherwise, he might have had more reward for his hard work and clever touches.
This night belonged to Morris. It hasn't been the easiest of seasons for him -- his two goals equaled his 2017 total for the Seattle Sounders -- and this match did reveal that his decision-making on the ball needs some work, but his pace makes him a valued part of this U.S. side and his runs in the box made him too much to handle for Martinique.
So is it time to panic? Far from it. That doesn't mean there can't be disappointment with the way this U.S. has performed so far.
Prior to the tournament there was genuine excitement about what this team could do, and which players could emerge to take on bigger roles. For now, that has been replaced by skepticism over just how many players will be able to help out when World Cup qualifying resumes in September.
The U.S. sits on top of its group after two games, thanks to the goals scored tiebreaker, but it will need more of the good in its game to emerge in order to achieve the goal of winning the Gold Cup.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.