The United States survived two missed penalties to beat Nicaragua 3-0 in Cleveland on Saturday and reach the Gold Cup quarter-finals as winners of Group B.
Goals from Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe and Matt Miazga lifted the Americans against a lively Nicaragua side. Bruce Arena’s men went into the contest needing a three-goal win to top the group after Panama’s 3-0 win over Martinique in the opening match of the day’s double-header.
For a time it looked as if they wouldn’t get there, but Chelsea defender Miazga’s 88th minute header spared the Americans from a quarter-final date with dangerous Costa Rica.
“I would think that you could say we wasted some opportunities, and made it pretty difficult on ourselves,” said Arena, who changed all 11 starters from the side that beat minnows Martinique on Wednesday.
“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.”
The United States threatened early as Rowe fired straight at Nicaragua keeper Justo Lorente in the seventh minute.
Dom Dwyer and Zusi also went close, the latter surging into the box but firing straight at Lorente.
It was Corona who grabbed the opener in the 36th minute.
Alejandro Bedoya’s cross from the right found Corona, whose shot from the top of the area was deflected inside the near post.
They doubled the advantage in the 56th, when Rowe, played through by Bedoya, beat Lorente for his first international goal.
But two second-half chances from the spot went begging. Dwyer’s penalty attempt, after the English-born striker was brought down in the box, was easily saved by Lorente.
After Rowe’s goal, a Daniel Cadena handball gave the American’s another chance, but Corona’s effort was also saved. The Americans gained a man advantage in the 85th after Luis Copete picked up a second yellow card, and Miazga’s goal soon followed.
“Give the goalkeeper for Nicaragua credit, two penalty kick saves isn’t bad in a game,” Arena said. “Give them credit there, we didn’t do well with our kicks. At the end of the day we still came out on top, and I’m pleased with that.”
The United States and Panama both finished group play on seven points, but the US took the group with seven goals-for to Panama’s six.
The Panamanians struck late in the first half and added two goals in the second in their victory over Martinique, who finished third in the group on three points.
Panama’s New York Red Bulls defender Michael Murillo opened the scoring in the 44th minute, nodding in a cross from New York City FC’s Miguel Camargo.
Goals in the 60th by Abdiel Arroyo and the 67th by Gabriel Torres sealed the points for Panama.
The top two teams in each of the three groups advance to the quarters, along with the two best third-place teams.