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Did the U.S. 'B Team' fail its Gold Cup test? It depends on your perspective

Did the U.S. 'B Team' fail its Gold Cup test? It depends on your perspective
From ESPN - July 17, 2017

In the end, the United States men's national team got the result they needed. Matt Miazga's goal in the 88th minute gave the Americans a 3-0 victory over Nicaragua at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday evening. The result -- combined with Panama's win over Martinique by the same scoreline earlier in the day -- meant that the red, white and blue finished group play in first place, setting up a quarterfinal matchup against El Salvador. The win was not pretty, but it was enough.

"Not pretty but enough" is a good summation of the first three games for the Americans. While Bruce Arena's squad fared better than the Jurgen Klinsmann-led group did two years ago -- they outscored the opposition 7-3 compared to 4-2 in 2015, and posted a plus-18 figure in the shots category against a remarkable minus-30 during the last competition -- they were never truly dominant. The American side was only in control of games for periods of 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.

The Americans -- ranked 28th in the world, according to the Elo rating system -- could easily have lost to Panama (49th) in the opener, before squeaking by Martinique (93rd) and dispatching Nicaragua (136th) by the exact number of goals they needed to secure the top spot in Group C. The final tally came seconds after Los Pinoleros nearly scored a goal of their own, but two attackers careened into each other while attempting to reach a free header. The Americans countered following the miss, drawing a foul outside the box that served as Luis Copete's second caution.

Miazga, finding space in the box with Nicaragua down to nine men, slam dunked Graham Zusi's cross home and gave the U.S. its precious third goal. "They took the scenic route," said play-by-play commentator John Strong. This scenic route, however, was not very pretty at all.

While the victory was fine, it was far from good. And it should be better. If the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup showed us anything, it proved that there's a dramatic drop-off between the "A team" that contested the most recent World Cup qualifiers and the B squad deployed by Bruce Arena this summer.

The coach asked players like Kellyn Acosta (the closest thing to a first-team starter to appear in the group stage) to step up and lead the second string; Acosta failed to do so. Dax McCarty, a midfielder whom fans and media members alike singled out as a national team candidate due to his impressive consistency in Major League Soccer, played his "worst game of the entire year" against Panama. While he improved against Nicaragua, virtually the entire American team did also; no one is going to confuse Nicaragua's side with a world-class squad.

Go further down the line and you find disappointing performance after disappointing performance. Graham Zusi struggled at right-back. Joe Corona completed plenty of passes, but failed to do much with them. Gyasi Zardes lost ball after ball. Matt Hedges got lost.

Other performances were slightly better. Juan Agudelo created a few chances that his teammates promptly squandered. Dom Dwyer showed that his nose for the goal extends to the international game -- at least against inferior competition. Jordan Morris also demonstrated an ability to score in international play. He has a goal scorer's talent for being in the right place, but how much credit does the darling of the Pacific Northwest get for finding the back of the net against a squad full of semi-pros?

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