3 keys for USMNT vs. Nicaragua

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The U.S. Men’s National Team survived disaster Wednesday night with their 3-2 win over Martinique.

But the performance left much to be desired, and Bruce Arena will again need to tinker with his lineup and tactics to find a more consistent winning formula from this squad of 23 players ahead of Saturday’s match in Cleveland against Nicaragua.

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With a number of the starters resting, the U.S. starting eleven against Martinique looked and played like a team that didn’t have a lot of chemistry together, and it really took until the second half to start finding their flow in the attacking third of the field.

On the other end, centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges and goalkeeper Brad Guzan each had forgettable moments against a team without a heralded set of players, other than Kevin Parsemain.

Here’s a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT when they face Nicaragua:

1. Connect the lines

Against Martinique, the USMNT had real trouble finding someone to connect the defense with the midfielders and forwards. Juan Aguedlo dropped back at times to serve as an outlet and bring midfielders into the play, but it wasn’t often enough and the passing struggled. Against Nicaragua, which will likely set up defensively, the USMNT will need to pass better and move the ball around at speed. Perhaps an option is moving Kellyn Acosta forward as a central attacking midfield or having Alejandro Bedoya in that position.

2. Get Dom Dwyer going

It took until the second half for Dwyer to score the opening goal against Panama in Nashville but Dwyer was full of pace and energy early on, as the U.S. team was feeding him with passes into space often. If Dwyer starts and the U.S. can get him involved early, it will help him get comfortable in the flow of the game. With his high-energy style, he always seems likely to score and he opens space for his teammates.

3. Clean up defense

Arena made three changes to his backline against Martinique and it showed, as Gonzalez, Hedges and Justin Morrow struggled at times. Only Eric Lichaj looked serviceable at right back, and could see his playing time increase. But against Nicaragua, Arena is likely to return Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Jorge Villafaña to the lineup, more experienced players and for Zusi and Besler, much more experienced at the international level. Bringing back a backline with more chemistry should help clean up the messy situations that the U.S. backline found itself in against Martinique.