As was the case with their first two games of the Gold Cup, the US was somewhat underwhelming in their 3-0 win over Nicaragua on Saturday, if only because it could have and should have been more than three. Dom Dwyer and Joe Corona both missed penalties but thanks to a late Matt Miazga goal, the US was able to secure top spot in the group and avoid a more difficult quarter-final matchup. As it is, their quarter-final matchup is against El Salvador.
Maybe it was because of the subpar group stage, maybe it was planned all along but for whatever reason Bruce Arena has made the maximum six changes to his roster allowed by CONCACAF. Going home from the camp are Sean Johnson, Christian Roldan, Brad Guzan, Alejandro Bedoya, Kelyn Rowe and somewhat surprisingly Dom Dwyer. Coming in is a bevy of experienced, quality players: Clint Dempsey, Darlington Nagbe, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and newcomer Jesse Gonzalez who was just granted a one-time switch to play for the US. While it is kind of surprising and a little sad to see players like Dwyer and Rowe go home, there’s no doubt that the US is now a much better squad than it was when the tournament started. But there is a flip side to that coin. Now that the US has a number of its big guns in the squad, the pressure is on to play better and get more convincing results than in the group stage. Should the US continue to labor to do just enough the level of angst and anxiety among the fans and media will only go up, especially so because should the US win this game they would play the winner of a good Costa Rica team or a Panama team that has already managed a draw against the US in this tournament.
El Salvador made it to the quarter-finals in interesting fashion. They qualified as the second best third place team (behind Honduras on goal difference but ahead of Martinique on points with four to their three). They played about as well as possible against Mexico, going down early, quickly equalizing before eventually falling 3-1. They bounced back in their next game to defeat Curacao 2-0 before settling for a 1-1 draw against Jamaica in their final group game. This current Gold Cup run comes on the back of a third place finish at the Copa Centroamericana in January. Their roster feature several players based in the US: Darwin Ceren of the San Jose Earthquakes, Junior Burgos of Reno 1868 and the New York Cosmos duo of Richard Menjivar and Andres Flores. But the most dangerous player on the field for El Salvador is Rodolfo Zelaya who has 21 goals in 47 international appearances.