TAMPA, Fla. – It was a game as volatile as the standard Florida summer weather they played in, the US national team outlasted Martinique 3-2 Wednesday night in Tampa, securing three vital points but in the process raising some questions for a second consecutive match.
Afterward, though, US coach Bruce Arena expressed relief and optimism – rather than concern or panic – after a match in which the Americans came within a whisker of conceding one of the more unlikely results in Gold Cup history after seeing an early 2-0 lead evaporate.
“I thought we played well,” Arena said. “We are certainly guilty of making the game a lot more difficult than it needed to be, but give Martinique credit, they fought and played hard the entire game and made a good showing. It was a good game.”
The US had plenty of the ball in the opening half, but were indecisive in the final third and came away empty, managing six shots but only three on frame.
“In the first half, Martinique played with a lot of energy and played with really solid defensive organization,” Arena said. “We needed to be sharper on the ball and moving the ball in the last third and we weren’t.”
Wary for the second consecutive game of an opponent with pacy counterattacking talent, the US reverted to the deep back four it had deployed against Panama in Saturday’s group opener. That hurt the US's tempo and rhythm, and Arena changed things in the second half.
“We did tell the players and our backline at halftime to push up, and told our fullbacks to get higher,” the manager said. “I thought that adjustment clearly helped us move the ball.”
And while the US defense struggled at times in the second half, allowing Kevin Parsemain's brace and Martinique's two-goal fightback, Arena pointed out these matches continue to be as much about evaluating individual talent as team results.
From that perspective, he said, there was some promise.
“We made mistakes but we also saw a lot of good performances,” Arena said. “Jordan Morris scored two goals and Eric Lichaj, Matt Hedges and Justin Morrow did a good job on our backline. I thought Cristian Roldan, given it was his first cap, did well and I thought Juan Agudelo had an excellent game tonight. There were a lot of positives there.”
The US will of course want to play a more complete game as the tournament progresses. But Gold Cup rules allow a manager to make a handful of roster changes before the knockout rounds, if they choose. And even after an uneven performance like this one, Arena said many individuals are making him give a second thought. In a good way.
“One of the things we’re trying to do in this tournament is really look at some players in our pool that we as a staff haven’t seen much of, to help us make decisions moving forward with World Cup qualifying in September and October,” Arena said. “But they’ve also made it much more complicated to decide what changes to make in this tournament, and that’s positive.”