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The U.S. national soccer team didn’t figure to have much trouble with tiny Martinique in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday. Instead, the Americans found themselves in a heap of trouble on multiple occasions.

They gave an uninspiring performance in the first half and were fortunate not to fall behind. They scored twice in the second half to seemingly put the result to rest, then conceded two goals in eight minutes. Jordan Morris, the second-year pro for the Seattle Sounders, came to the rescue, however, scoring the second of his two goals in the 76th minute for a 3-2 victory at Raymond James Stadium.

“We made it really tough on ourselves,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “We could’ve done much better. That’s the disappointing part, the fact that we gave up two goals.”

The Americans (1-0-1) jumped to the top of the Group B standings and all but sealed a quarterfinal place ahead of Saturday’s group finale against Nicaragua (0-2-0) in Cleveland.

Panama (1-0-1) is even with the United States on points and goal differential but behind on total goals. Martinique (1-1-0) remains in contention in the 12-team competition.

Gonzalez provided the lead in the 53rd minute by stabbing in a rebound from close range. In the 64th, an overlapping Eric Lichaj crossed to the near post for Morris’ redirect from 4 yards.

Two minutes later, however, goalkeeper Brad Guzan didn’t do well with Kevin Parsemain’s 23-yard bid, letting the ball slip past him at the right corner. And in the 74th minute, a series of deflections after faulty U.S. defending resulted in a shocking equalizer.

Two minutes passed, and Gyasi Zardes crossed from the left flank to Morris, who smashed an 8-yarder into the top right corner.

“We’re certainly guilty of making the game a lot more difficult on us than it needed to be,” said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who nonetheless thought his team played well.

The Americans improved 5-0-5 since Arena returned for a second stint as national team coach, replacing Jurgen Klinsmann.

The only three starting holdovers from the weekend’s 1-1 draw with Panamawere Gonzalez, Guzan and defensive midfielder Kellyn Acosta. Arena extended opportunities to, among others, outside backs Lichaj and Justin Morrow, center back Matt Hedges and midfielder Cristian Roldan. He also reintroduced Zardes and forward Juan Agudelo, and put Morris and Paul Arriola on the spot.

“I saw a lot of good performances out of some of our players. A lot of positives there,” Arena said. “One of the things we’re trying to do in this tournament is really look at some players in our pool that we haven’t seen much of and help us make some decisions for qualifying in September and October.”

Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Alejandro Bedoya [USA]
Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Alejandro Bedoya [USA]
The Americans got off to a bright start, but without anyone taking charge, they couldn’t sustain it. Their few opportunities fizzled in off-target shots and missed connections.

They had eight corner kicks in the first half, but Martinique had the better genuine chances: Parsemain hit the near post from 8 yards in the 31st minute, and Stephane Abaul’s header narrowly missed in the 43rd.

“They didn’t stop running, didn’t stop playing,” Gonzalez said. “We need to be smarter, more focused throughout the entire game.”

After intermission, the Americans played with greater purpose but continued coming up empty. Arriola’s 6-yard stab off Agudelo’s deflected shot smacked the crossbar, and Morris wasn’t able to chip a shot over advancing goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa. A minute after Morris’ missed opportunity, Gonzalez scored his second career international goal by stabbing a rebound past Olimpa.

“It’s all about team, all about the three points,” Morris said after the Americans improved to 31-1-4 during the Gold Cup group stage.

Martinique “made it very tough for us,” Morris added. “It was a battle all night.”

Martinique is part of the Windward Islands and has a population of just 385,000. As an overseas department of France, it is not eligible for World Cup qualifying or other events governed by FIFA.

“A lot of pleasure from this game. Too bad that we got scored on right after coming back,” Martinique coach Jean-Marc Civault said through a translator. “Honestly, the U.S. was superior in keeping the ball, but I’m very proud of my players’ performance.”

In Wednesday’s first match, Panama scored twice in a seven-minute span early in the second half to overcome a deficit and defeat Nicaragua, 2-1.

Source: The Washington Post