Miazga’s late goal gives US 1st place in Gold Cup group

United States' Joe Corona (10) celebrates with Graham Zusi (19) after scoring a goal against Nicaragua during a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in Cleveland, Ohio, Saturday, July 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

CLEVELAND (AP) Alejandro Bedoya can watch the rest of the CONCACAF Gold Cup after helping the U.S. avoid an embarrassing second-place finish in its group.

Bedoya set up goals by Joe Corona and Kelyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga’s close-range header in the 88th minute from Graham Zusi’s free kick gave the United States a 3-0 win over 10-man Nicaragua on Saturday, just enough to leapfrog Panama for the Group B lead.

Bedoya is among six players on the 23-man roster who will be replaced for the knockout phase. His second child is due early next week.

”It’s tough, but this is something we have talked about,” Bedoya said. ”As much as I would have loved to stay, we’re welcoming a new life.”

Goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Michael Bradley watched from the stands and are among the players U.S. coach Bruce Arena plans to add along with forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez – whose approval to switch affiliation from Mexico to the U.S. was granted in late June.

”Alejandro is a very good player,” Arena said. ”In this three- or four-week period that we’ve been together he continues to demonstrate that. He can play a number of positions and he’s a really versatile player. He does an excellent job.”

Panama’s 3-0 win over Martinique in the first match of the doubleheader meant the U.S. needed a three-goal win to move back over Los Canaleros into first. But the Americans struggled for long stretches against Nicaragua, a team ranked 105th by FIFA. They squandered opportunities when Dom Dwyer and Corona took poor penalty kicks in the second half that easily were saved by Justo Lorente.

”Give the goalkeeper for Nicaragua some credit – two penalty kick saves in a game isn’t bad – but we didn’t do well with our kicks,” Arena said. ”It was a game where we wasted some opportunities and made it pretty difficult on ourselves. However, at the end I’m pretty proud of our team that they kept battling and they knew that they needed to get three goals in the game and they managed to do it in the end.”

Nicaragua’s Luis Copete was sent off in the 85th minute for his second yellow card, and Luis Galeano was receiving treatment for an injury, giving the U.S. a two-man advantage when Zusi took his free kick from about 30 yards. Miazga, a 21-year-old Chelsea defender playing his first international match since May 2016, made a diagonal run from the outside and had an open header to score his first goal in three national team appearances.

”It was kind of too good to be true,” Miazga said. ”I wasn’t really marked. The player who’d been marking me all game got a red card, so I was kind of free and Graham played a phenomenal ball. He floated it in, and I saw it all the way and guided it into the goal.”

Miazga spent last season on loan to Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie and had not played in a match since May 14.

”The field was a little bit sticky, so we couldn’t really play fluid football, but it is what it is,” Miazga said. ”We had to manage it.”

The U.S. and Panama both finished with seven points and a plus-four goal difference, but the Americans won the group bases on total goals, 7-6. The Americans have won their group in 13 of 14 Gold Cups, finishing second to Panama in 2011.

Next up for the U.S. is a quarterfinal Wednesday in Philadelphia against a third-place team from another group, likely Honduras, El Salvador or Jamaica. A second-place finish would have meant a U.S.-Costa Rica matchup.