CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The US national team got what they needed Saturday night, but it wasn’t always pretty.
The 3-0 win over Nicaragua was enough to see them to the top of Group B in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but the result came with a few worries. Head coach Bruce Arena was satisfied with the victory, but also saw his team struggle at times.
“Clearly a good result for us,” he said after the match. “A game where I would think that you could say we wasted some opportunities and made it pretty difficult on ourselves.”
It was a match the US expected to win easily, but their opponents didn’t make it so. Nicaragua came out pressing hard early on, which caught the Arena and his group off guard.
“I was surprised at how aggressive they were and how they pressed us and came after us and made the game difficult.”
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya echoed this sentiment afterwards: “They came at us, they tried to pressure us. Which I didn’t expect from them.”
The biggest self-inflicted hurdle was two saved penalties in the second half. Both attempts -- by Dom Dwyer and Joe Corona -- were poor, but Arena gave credit to Nicaraguan goalkeeper Justo Lorente: “Two penalty kick saves isn't bad in a game. We didn’t do well with our kicks.”
Among the positives, Arena praised his team’s ability to keep the intensity up for the entire 90 minutes, with a 3-0 scoreline instead of 2-0 being the difference between winning the group over Panama and finishing second.
“I’m pretty proud of our team," he said. "They kept battling and they knew they needed to get three goals in the game today and they did it in the end.”
The team eventually settled down and they were able to push three goals across to get the result they needed. Joe Corona’s late first-half goal started the turnaround for a team that didn’t play well in the opening 45. The second half was a much stronger performance, aside from the two missed penalties.
Goals from Kelyn Rowe and Matt Miazga secured the US' place on top of Group B with a presumably more favorable draw in the quarterfinals, against the third-place finisher in Group A or C. That’s all that was needed to make Arena happy on the night.
“At the end of the day we still came out on top and I’m pleased with that.”
Moving forward, roster changes are coming for the knockout rounds. Arena said he expects to make the maximum of six possible changes. He wouldn’t specify who was coming in or going out in the postgame press conference, except that Bedoya will be leaving the team. The Philadelphia Union man is expecting the birth of a child next week and will take the time at be with his family.