Matt Miazga

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Three things from the USMNT’s 2-0 win over El Salvador

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The United States of America is not winning the Gold Cup.

At least that’s not how things look despite Bruce Arena’s much-needed call-ups of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, and Clint Dempsey.

[ MORE: Match recap | Altidore bit | Player ratings ]

Don’t let the clean sheet fool you: The defense was a mess again, the finishing was off, and any other remaining team in the tournament would’ve dismissed the U.S. at the quarterfinals given the same chances.

Agree or disagree, read on…

Back line blues

Tim Howard bailed out Eric Lichaj for a miserable early giveaway, but the play was far from an aberration for the Yanks’ defense.

Lichaj, solid in his first match of the tournament, struggled with giveaways in this one. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges were caught out of position and sometimes out of the camera, with the former’s missed clearance of a cross nearly allowing El Salvador back into the game in the 63rd minute.

With this roster and Costa Rica on the other side Saturday, Hedges probably needs to slide back onto the bench and Gonzalez needs to be paired with his World Cup mate Matt Besler. We’d still like to see more from Matt Miazga, but unsure a semifinal against the team that got your last coach fired is the spot for a relative rookie.

Now what does Arena do with the fullbacks? Neither Lichaj nor Morrow shone in defense, but Graham Zusi has been very poor and Jorge Villafana is yet to put forth a complete performance in this tournament. Looking back to the Martinique charade, defense is slated to send the Yanks away from the Gold Cup without a title and probably without a Final. Find a fix, Bruce.

The roster changes were needed

While it wasn’t Clint Dempsey’s best night, he provided a key assist and made sure that each of the five roster changes — third string goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez is six — showed why Arena made the changes after the group stage (though who he sent home, *cough* Kelyn Rowe *cough*, remains up for debate).

Michael Bradley is simply the best option in the center of the park right now, and showed that the captain is still the man even if Dax McCarty is a fine backup. Darlington Nagbe was clean on the ball as usual, Tim Howard made an early calming stop of a horrible Lichaj giveaway, and Jozy Altidore showed that he remains the player to game plan for if you’re a CONCACAF team. While only Howard and Bradley will really love their games, all five will be necessary to a Gold Cup Final run.

Adjustments haven’t been great

Maybe Arena doesn’t have the options he needs to show “master tactician” status, and his work is far from the biggest team problem, but the second half was a problem.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

One substitution in particular was questionable: Arena took off Paul Arriola and replaced him with forward Jordan Morris. Now perhaps this was somehow due to Arriola’s sneaky groin kick earlier in the match, and that’s about the only way I can handle the sub (Full disclosure: I’ve enjoyed watching Arriola, so if you think he’s been poor then call this post “Two things” and move on).

The move disrupted Nagbe’s great night and the Yanks never really rebounded to threaten a third goal. In fact, they probably should’ve seen their lead knocked down to one at least once. The Kellyn Acosta for Gyasi Zardes sub was welcome, for sure, so it’s not like Arena was a disaster. And the side hasn’t looked aimless as it did under Jurgen Klinsmann, so this isn’t a witch hunt. But the Americans need better.

USMNT stock up, stock down after Gold Cup group stage

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Bruce Arena took a look at 22 of the 23 men on his 2017 Gold Cup group stage roster, with everyone but NYCFC backstop Sean Johnson seeing time.

Six players received just 90 minutes, while only Alejandro Bedoya (203) and Dax McCarty (184) played more than the equivalent of two full matches.

Bedoya and Johnson were sent home after the group stage, along with Brad Guzan, Dom Dwyer, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe. Oddly enough, four of those six players were pretty good in the tournament.

[ MORE: U.S. the new front-runner? ]

Before getting to the 22 men in question, perhaps it’s better to begin by asking if there were any of the first-choice players whose stock took a hit from being given the summer off. Given the Yanks’ remarkably disappointing performances in games one and two, it might be odd to suggest that any did, but Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris’ performances at least guaranteed continued competition for Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey. Jurgen Klinsmann listed Julian Green as a midfielder on the 2014 World Cup roster, and carried Dempsey, Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, and Aron Johannsson in Brazil.

Stock up

Alejandro Bedoya — Whether you rate the Philadelphia Union midfielder as a mainstay, an ancillary piece or just depth, Arena handed him the arm band and played him more than any other player. Looked better in the middle of the park than the wing.

Omar Gonzalez — Unsure you’ll ever feel supreme confidence with him as a starting CB against top competition, but he was composed and good in the air. Connected on 57 of 58 pass attempts.

Matt Besler — Ninety-six attempted passes led the team, as did his 87 correct offerings. The Sporting KC man has his place in the team, and World Cup experience to boot.

Kelyn Rowe — We’d be shocked if his departure back to New England had anything to do with his fine performances with the USMNT. Played a role in a conceded goal, but was a dynamic creator when his team was lacking that role.

Matt Miazga Finished 21 of 22 passes, scored a goal, and begged to be given more time to shine. Where Chelsea sends him on loan and how he fares will be closely monitored.

Jordan Morris — His seven shots and two goals led the team, and one even came with his left foot. Emblematic of the homegrown American talent, it was good to see him finish chances again.

Eric Lichaj Small sample size alert, but the three fouls he suffered in his lone game puts him behind just three players on average. Hoping Arena lets him play alongside the big boys.

Brad Guzan —  It has been a while since we saw the new Atlanta United backstop shine in a USMNT kit, and he did it twice. Clearly the 2 in the 1-2 with Tim Howard.

Dom Dwyer — Missed penalty aside, showed moxie and a nose for goal. Most importantly, he scored in a game where the ball wasn’t finding him; That’s a quality attribute for an international striker.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Stock down

Cristian Roldan — This should read “short term stock down.” At age 22 he should have plenty more chances to impress Arena and future U.S. coaches, but he certainly didn’t demand Russia consideration based on his 90 minutes.

Matt Hedges — If you searched our site for his name, you’d see no one has championed his call-up to the national team more but he was hurt for speed during his one-off appearance.

Graham Zusi — Not a right back, at least not in a system not focused to his strengths and weaknesses, but Arena’s continued use of the Sporting KC man in that spot show that our stock down might not be his stock down. That said, we’re open to the idea of him as a right mid.

Chris Pontius — An exceptional talent and industrious worker, he didn’t star and is 30 years old. Doesn’t change our opinion of the Union man, but probably hurts his World Cup dreams.

Gyasi Zardes — Like Zusi, this isn’t his fault. Unlike Zusi, Zardes was playing his natural position as he continued his recent malaise. The group stage allowed Jordan Morris to break out of the funk he brought with him from MLS; Zardes could do no such thing. Maybe this is a all just a step in his continued recovery process.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Could go either way

Justin Morrow — Only saw 90 minutes as Jorge Villafana is going to get every chance to seize this job. That’s not an indictment on Morrow, though the Toronto FC left back did not do anything fantastic to demand more playing time (Leaning? Up).

Kellyn Acosta — Still think he’s a future mainstay on the team, but perhaps we see why Klinsmann elected to try him at left back rather than the center mid spot he plays for FC Dallas; His talent, athleticism, and ideas are outstanding, but he also shows his age often when the unexpected happens. At 21, this is going to get better… but by Russia? (Leaning? Up).

Dax McCarty — Along with Acosta, was a revelation in the friendly against Ghana. Did plenty of good in two 90-minute performances, but perhaps is yet to convince Arena or the fan base that he can be a Kyle Beckerman-style key piece of a roster puzzle. (Leaning? Up).

Paul Arriola —  Really liked his mettle, and in a coincidental statistic the U.S. is 6W-1D in matches he’s hit the pitch. At age 22, his slim hopes for the roster comes from contributing as a sub. Can he do it when it matters in the knockout rounds? Will he get the chance? (Leaning? Up).

Jorge Villafana — Can fly up and down the left flank, but still missing something in his own end and the final third. Still, he’s going to get every chance to allow Arena to keep Fabian Johnson at left back. (Leaning? Down).

Juan Agudelo — Bright and lively at times, missed the finishing touch that would have American fans recapturing their enthusiasm of years ago. (Leaning? Down).

Joe Corona — Scored a goal and showed he’s up for the challenge skill and vision wise, but also drifted out of the game at times and took one of the worst on frame penalties you’re going to see this year. (Leaning? Up).

Bill Hamid — Did what he needed to do against Nicaragua, but remains behind Howard and Guzan while waiting to see if Jesse Gonzalez is the eventual No. 3 for Russia (should the Yanks qualify for the 2018 World Cup). (Leaning? Up).

Bradley, Dempsey, Howard join USMNT for Gold Cup KO rounds

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CLEVELAND (AP) Forward Clint Dempsey, midfielder Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard are among six additions to the U.S. roster for the knockout phase of the CONCACAF Gold Cup as coach Bruce Arena opted to add some of his most experienced players.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 3-0 Nicaragua | Three things we learned ]

Arena also added forward Jozy Altidore, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Sunday. Gonzalez’s application to change affiliation from Mexico to the U.S. was approved by FIFA last month, after the deadline for setting the 23-man roster for the group phase.

Goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson were dropped along with midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe, and forward Dom Dwyer. Arena had planned in advance to replace Guzan, Johnson and Bedoya.

Bedoya is expecting the birth of his second child next week.

[ REACP: USA beats Nicaragua, 3-0 ]

The U.S. plays its quarterfinal Wednesday in Philadelphia against a third-place team from another group, likely Honduras, El Salvador or Jamaica. The opponent was to be determined Sunday night.

Using a mostly junior varsity group, the Americans opened with a 1-1 tie against Panama and wasted a two-goal lead against Martinique before winning 3-2. The U.S. defeated Nicaragua 3-0 Saturday night, getting an 88th-minute goal from Matt Miazga to win Group B by edging Panama based on total goals.

Each team is allowed to make up to six changes in the 24 hours after finishing the group stage, and the additions must come from the 40-man preliminary roster submitted in early June.

“We have added some experienced players,” Arena said in a statement. “The players leaving all made a good impression, and I’m optimistic for their future with the national team program.”

Dempsey has 56 international goals, one shy of Landon Donovan’s American record. Dempsey, Bradley, Howard and Altidore all are regular starters when the full national team player pool is called in, and Nagbe appeared in the first seven U.S. matches this year after Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann and started his second stint as coach.

The U.S. improved to 32-1-4 during the group stage of the Gold Cup and 6-0-5 since Arena returned.

Updated USMNT roster

Goalkeepers: Jesse Gonzalez, Bill Hamid, Tim Howard

Defenders: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafana, Graham Zusi

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Chris Pontius, Gyasi Zardes

Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris

Arena: We “made it difficult on ourselves” against Nicaragua

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Very rarely does a goalkeeper stop one penalty kick during a match, let alone two during that very same match.

[ MORE: Three things from the USMNT’s victory over Nicaragua ]

That was exactly what Nicaragua keeper Justo Lorente managed to do on Saturday night though during the team’s 3-0 defeat against the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[ MORE: Pair of penalty misses nearly costs USMNT top spot in group ]

Despite the overwhelming result in favor of the USMNT, manager Bruce Arena recognized how “difficult” his side made it on themselves against their Central American foe.

“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.”

Dom Dwyer and Joe Corona each had their spot-kick attempts saved by Lorente in the second stanza, however, the latter had opened the scoring for the USMNT in the 36th minute.

From there, Kelyn Rowe and Matt Miazga each tallied their first international goals for the Stars and Stripes after halftime, giving the U.S. a more comfortable lead.

Arena cited a better second-half performance from his side that proved to be the difference in closing out the win.

“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.”

Player ratings from USMNT’s 3-0 win over Nicaragua

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The U.S. national team is through to the quarterfinals of the 2017 Gold Cup as Group B winners following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Nicaragua.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena prepares to make as many as six changes to the USMNT roster before the knockout rounds begin on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Bradley, Altidore to be added to USMNT’s roster for KO rounds ]

GK — Bill Hamid: 6 — Challenged just twice all night, Hamid made both saves asked of him, though he did spill a long-range effort late in the second half which nearly turned into a disastrous moment.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5 — Villafaña struggles with two facets of playing left back at the international level: 1) he’s not a great pretty poor attacker when he gets forward, and 2) he’s left for dead against pacy wingers. Neither of those bode well 11 months before the start of the World Cup.

CB — Matt Besler: 6 — It’s not often that a center back is completely uninvolved in everything that happens in the game, but that was the case for Besler in this one. It’s impossible to “hurt” your stock in such an event, but there’s no helping either.

CB — Matt Miazga: 7 — Again, the center backs were largely untested over the 90 minutes, but Miazga did score the late winner, albeit while completely unmarked, on a set piece.

RB — Graham Zusi: 5.5 — He’s not an international right back. What I mean by that is: he’s great at the position for Sporting Kansas City, because the entirety of the attacking and defensive systems are tailored to his strengths, and away from his weaknesses. That’s impossible to replicate during an international camp, and it’s actively hurting the USMNT.

[ MORE: USMNT miss two PKs, still finish top of Group B ]

CM — Dax McCarty: 6 — The majority of the game was played in the final third for the USMNT, and out on the wings for Nicaragua — both of which are to say, McCarty, like the center backs directly behind him, saw very little action.

CM — Alejandro Bedoya: 8 — Man of the Match, probably. Furthermore, I’ll own this: I was wrong. I thought Bedoya should be deployed as a winger and/or wide midfielder, but he’s so clearly a two-way central midfielder, and with a responsible, dominant partner like McCarty, a really good one.

CM — Joe Corona: 6 — Scored a goal, missed a penalty, killed the majority of attacking movements during which he touched the ball. Business as usual.

[ MORE: Panama win helps USMNT, Mexico into quarterfinals ]

LW — Kelyn Rowe: 8 — Best attacker during the group stage, hands down. Another strong showing, while played out of position, and a goal to show for his efforts.

CF — Dom Dwyer: 5 — Like Corona, Dwyer missed a penalty and served as the end of the road for a number of promising attacking sequences. His hold-up play isn’t strong enough to play as a target; his movement isn’t tricky, nor his finishing clinical, enough to be a poacher. It’s tough to see where/how he fits in going forward.

RW — Chris Pontius: 5 — Wings are the most wide open positions in the player pool, so it’s worth it to give anyone and everyone a look, especially during the group stage, but Pontius is neither explosive now a visionary. One or the other, please.

[ MORE: Costa Rica, Canada book quarterfinal places ]

Sub — Paul Arriola: 5 — Unable to find time on the ball, or space, to create. He’s a worker, to be certain, but offers very little in terms of chance creation. As established above, a common theme.

Sub — Jordan Morris: 5 — Let’s pick a position for Morris, and let him live there. Is he a forward? Is he an cutting-in winger? He took a knock on the hip not long after coming on, and look hindered the rest of the way. There’s a time and a place for a player with his speed, but a game where you’ve already got a 2-0 lead might not be it.

Sub — Juan Agudelo: 6 — The smallest sample size — just 16 minutes — but every time he hits the field, Agudelo gets on the ball and his first instinct is to run at defenders. It was his dribble through midfield which won the free kick that resulted in Miazga’s winner. Things happen when Agudelo is on the field. He should have started the first and the third games, with Dwyer taking the middle of the three.