Preview: U.S. MNT to host Nicaragua in CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage finale on Saturday

Dom Dwyer - U.S. MNT vs. Ghana - July 14, 2017

U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Nicaragua
2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group B
Saturday, July 15 | 6 p.m. CT | FXX, Univision, UDN
FirstEnergy Stadium | Cleveland, Ohio

Although the U.S. Men's National Team sits at the top of the Group B table, Saturday’s match against Nicaragua is crucial for the Americans as they look to head into the knockout rounds of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The U.S. MNT is looking to follow up on Wednesday’s 3-2 victory against Martinique which featured some moments of excitement as well as missed chances that need to be capitalized on. The Yanks will look to take advantage of a winless Nicaraguan team and build some momentum before the Gold Cup enters its quarterfinals.

Unlikely Meeting

This showdown will mark the first time that the U.S. MNT and Nicaragua have squared off.

As an emerging soccer country, Nicaragua first stepped onto the CONCACAF Gold Cup stage in 2009. How the squad got to this year’s gold cup is both unconventional and unbelievable.

The side finished fifth at January’s Copa Centroamericana in Panama, putting them in a playoff with Haiti, which was to be decided by cumulative score of a two-game series. After Haiti took the first match 3-1 and held the Nicaraguans scoreless in the first 80 minutes of the second match, nearly all hope of a Gold Cup appearance was lost. Apparently nobody told that to Nicaragua forward Juan Barrera, who netted three goals in the final eight minutes of the match. His late heroics sent the Nicaraguan faithful into a frenzy and earned the squad a 4-3 aggregate victory, cementing their place in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

American Advantage

The Central American squad’s defense has been the team’s achilles heel during this Gold Cup stretch. In its last match against Panama, the Nicaraguans allowed 13 shots, two of which found the back of the net within 10 minutes of each other. The back line constantly had its back against the wall, as the defenders were required to make 23 clearances combined.

Despite numerous miscues, the American offense was able to put up some pretty impressive numbers in its 3-2 win over Martinique on Wednesday. The U.S. forwards were able to accumulate 21 shots throughout the game, 10 of which were on target. Not only were the Yanks able to keep the goalkeeper on his feet, but they kept possession for 61 percent of the game and completed just over 80 percent of their passes.

Should the trends continue, the inaugural match between the U.S. MNT and Nicaragua could lead to some offensive fireworks.

SKC Trio to Get Another Look?

Coming off short rest from a Wednesday match which did not feature the Sporting KC trio of Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer or Graham Zusi, it is very possible that Sporting KC fans will get to see their players step onto the pitch against Nicaragua.

In the U.S. MNT’s match against Panama last Saturday, Dwyer became the ninth player in U.S. MNT history to score a goal in each of his first two caps. Should he get the start and find the back of the net in this upcoming match, he’ll become one of just three players to ever accomplish such a milestone.

As for Besler and Zusi, their presence on the backline could help put a halt to the Nicaragua attack. The Kansas City defensive duo should be well rested and ready to play, whether it be in the starting lineup or off the bench.

USA Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)

DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, ENG), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, ENG), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, MEX), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)

Nicaragua Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Justo Lorente (UNAN FC / NCA), Henry Maradiaga (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Diedrich Tèllez (Diriangen FC / NCA)

DEFENDERS (8): Luis Copete (Comerciantes Unidos / PER), Cyril Errington (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Oscar Lòpez (Managua FC / NCA), Henry Niño (Jaco Rays FC / CRC), Josue Quijano (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Manuel Rosas (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Erick Tellez (Diriangen FC / NCA), Bismarck Vèliz (Chinandega FC / NCA)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Daniel Cadena (Njarðvíkur / ISL), Elvis Figueroa (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Luis Galeano (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Bryan Garcia (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Marlon Lòpez (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Maykel Montiel (UNAN FC / NCA), Bismarck Montiel (Managua FC / NCA), Luis Peralta (CD Walter Ferretti / NCA)

FORWARDS (4): Juan Barrera (Comunicaciones FC / GUA), Carlos Chavarria (Real Estelí FC / NCA), Jorge Hurtado (CD Walter Ferretti / NCA), Eulises Pavon (CD Suchitepéquez / GUA)