Pair of penalty misses nearly costs USMNT top spot in group

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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The U.S. national team knocked off Nicaragua in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup Group B finale on Saturday, and has advanced to the quarterfinal round, where they’ll take on a third-place finisher from either Group A or Group C on Wednesday.

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

The result didn’t come without adversity, of the self-inflicted variety. Most notably, a pair of penalty misses looked destined to deny Bruce Arena’s side the three-goal victory they needed to leapfrog Panama and finish top of the group. Fortunately, an unlikely hero’s first USMNT would span the gap, but only just.

The breakthrough came after 37 minutes, as the Yanks capitalized on one of few counter-attacking opportunities in the opening 45 minutes. Alejandro Bedoya crossed the ball from the right wing, but it ultimately fell to Joe Corona 20 yards from goal. The Club Tijuana man moved past a pair of defenders, cut inside and fired a bouncing ball past Lorente, inches inside his right-hand post.

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

Dwyer did everything β€” from winning the penalty kick, to taking the attempt himself β€” but score from the spot in the 50th minute. Dwyer went down under slight contact from Marlon Lopez, and claimed the spot kick as his own. He went left, and Lorente was all over it, making the save in comfortable fashion.

Only six minutes would pass before the Yanks’ next golden opportunity, and Rowe wouldn’t waste this one. It was Bedoya, again, who notched the assist with a visionary through ball. Rowe arrived in full stride, corralled it with a delicate first touch and applied the narrow-angled finish for 2-0, and his first international goal.

[ MORE: Costa Rica, Canada book quarterfinal places ]

The penalty woes would continue five minutes later, when Corona would see his own effort from the spot saved by Lorente, in far easier fashion that Dwyer’s attempt which preceded his own.

Nicaragua’s Luis Copete was shown a second yellow card in the 85th minute, when he bowled over Juan Agudelo in the open field, and the USMNT made the most of the man advantage. Graham Zusi lofted the ensuing free kick to the top of the six-yard box, where Matt Miazga awaited, completely unmarked, for a simple downward header, and more importantly, the 3-0 victory.