USMNT toils to tight victory in Gold Cup against an anonymous Martinique

Jordan Morris was great, but the USMNT was fortunate to beat Martinique. Yes, Martinique. (Getty)
Jordan Morris was great, but the USMNT was fortunate to beat Martinique. Yes, Martinique. (Getty)

On the night a giant of American soccer died, the United States men’s national team looked small and fragile in a sparse 3-2 victory over Martinique in the Gold Cup group stage.

Chuck Blazer, the longtime CONCACAF executive who helped build the sport stateside but who was disgraced in FIFA’s corruption scandal, in which he secretly cooperated with the authorities as an informant, passed away at 72 while awaiting sentencing for his crimes.

And days after a flat 1-1 tie in their opener of this off-year Gold Cup, a tournament bereft of its biggest stars this year, the Americans slogged to a narrow win over the puny island nation — a place that, as a territory of France, isn’t even recognized as an autonomous national team program by FIFA.

After a woeful first half in which the Americans mustered no rhythm, no threat and almost no real chances, a flurry of goals early in the second half got Omar Gonzalez on the scoresheet once and Jordan Morris twice. Kevin Parsemain and Johan Audel scored for Martinique in front of a thin crowd in Tampa, Fla.

Truthfully, Bruce Arena’s team was somewhat fortuitous to get to halftime without going behind. While Morris had a quick chance on Kellyn Acosta’s free kick, on which he stepped back on nodded just wide, Martinique got closer late on in the half.

Parsemain rolled a shot off the near post, past the beaten Brad Guzan after a great dribbling run by Stephane Abaul.

The Americans regrouped in the second half, gaining in urgency and control. And within minutes, that newfound purpose very nearly paid off. Juan Agudelo’s half-volley took an enormous deflection and looped into the path of Paul Arriola, who managed to poke the finish off the bar from just a few yards out.

Concluding an end-to-end sequence in which both Yoann Arquin and Morris were denied by their opposing goalkeepers, the U.S. went ahead. Gonzalez stabbed home a rebound from Arriola’s strike on a poorly cleared corner.

And some 10 minutes later, Alejandro Bedoya spotted the overlapping Eric Lichaj on the right, who fed Morris for the sly tap-in in front of the goalie.

But if the U.S. seemed to have a hold on the game, Martinique quickly broke it. Parsemain’s long shot snuck underneath Guzan’s arms to bring Les Matinino, as they are nicknamed, back within one.

Then Audel had a great look but saw his effort blocked by Guzan. But it rolled into the path of Parsemain, whose shot took a big deflection off the grounded Audel and went in.

Yet within a few plays, the otherwise unconvincing Gyasi Zardes made a run up the left and cut his cross back for Morris, who placed his finish perfectly for the winner.

In the record books, this will be jotted down as another victory for the U.S., meaning Arena remains undefeated in the 10 games of his second stint in charge. And with the U.S. now able to advance to the quarterfinals with a simple victory over winless Nicaragua on Saturday, all seems well.

There’s a danger in drawing sweeping conclusions from a B-team’s second official game at a competition, especially in a year that isn’t considered terribly important because it coincides with World Cup qualifying. Yet there’s no papering over the fact that Martinique is a team of semi-pros, whose best player, Parsemain, couldn’t cut it in France’s third division and washed out of MLS without playing a single game.

Regardless of the lineup and circumstances, the U.S. should have made quick work of a territory with a population of less than 400,000. There are no excuses for this game having been close. Heat. Humidity. Whatever.

Still, the U.S. carries on into the next stage of this summertime slog. The points were secured, however painfully, and that’s all that ultimately matters. Even when it seems like it isn’t.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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