Bruce Arena pleased, but says U.S. 'made it pretty difficult on ourselves'
CLEVELAND -- United States manager Bruce Arena credited his side for beating Nicaragua 3-0 in its group stage finale, a scoreline that proved to be just enough to edge out Panama for the top spot in Group B.
With Panama beating Martinique 3-0 in the day's opening match at FirstEnergy Stadium, the U.S. entered its encounter with Los Pinoleros knowing it needed to win by three goals in order to top the group. It did just that, getting goals from Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga, with the last goal coming with just two minutes remaining.
But Arena also lamented how his side squandered numerous opportunities, including a pair of second-half penalties that were saved by Nicaragua goalkeeper Justo Lorente. Had either attempt been converted -- Dom Dwyer took the first, Corona the second -- it would have allowed the Americans to breathe easier.
As it was, the U.S. still managed to get the needed result.
"I would think that you could say we wasted some opportunities, and made it pretty difficult on ourselves," Arena said. "However, in the end I'm pretty proud of our team that they kept battling, and they knew that they needed three goals in the game today and they managed to do it in the end.
"Give the goalkeeper for Nicaragua credit, two penalty kick saves isn't bad in a game. Give them credit there, we didn't do well with our [spot] kicks. At the end of the day we still came out on top, and I'm pleased with that."
The U.S. labored through a first half that saw it apply plenty of pressure but fail to create many opportunities. It wasn't until Corona's goal in the 36th minute that the U.S. managed to break on top.
"I don't really think we played particularly well in the first half," Arena said. "Certainly we could have had a couple of goals. We didn't look sharp. The field played a little slow, it was dry, but that's not an excuse.
"I thought they played well. But we didn't do a good job passing the ball. We didn't do a good job with our width. I think that improved in the second half."
Arena credited Nicaragua's approach of playing aggressively for disrupting the home side's attack.
"I was surprised with how aggressive they were today, and how they pressed us and came after us, and made the game difficult and played a bit of a high line," he said. "I would have thought that perhaps they'd go the other way. So I give them credit, going out and trying to match up with us and put a lot of pressure on us, and they were able to do that for 60 minutes or so. I thought they did a really good job getting after the ball and making it hard for us."
At the heart of the Americans' improvement was the play of midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya has long divided opinion among fans, with critics often stating that he doesn't contribute enough to the attack. But Bedoya set up both Corona and Rowe for their goals, and won one of the penalties that was saved. It was a proper sendoff given that Bedoya will leave the team to be with his wife, who is due to give birth to the couple's second child next week.
Arena stated that anyone who thinks Bedoya should be dropped is "pretty stupid" and hailed Bedoya's contribution over the course of this month.
"[Bedoya] is a very good player. In this three, four-week period that we've been together he continues to demonstrate that he can play a number of positions," he said. "He's a really versatile player, and he does an excellent job with them."
Arena also credited Rowe for improving his future prospects with the national team.
"[Rowe] is still a young player, and this is a whole new experience for him," said Arena. "I think he's done fine over the three weeks. He certainly needs more experience at the club level and the international level. He has shown well for himself."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.