U.S. fin­ishes atop its group at the Gold Cup with a 3-0 win over Nicaragua.

UNITED STATES 3, NICARAGUA 0

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF steven.goff@wash­post.com

In many ways, the U.S. men’s na­tional soccer team did not de­serve to fin­ish atop Group B in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Amer­i­cans weren’t very good in the first two matches, and on Satur­day against a weak op­po­nent, they failed to con­vert two penalty kicks 12 min­utes apart in the se­cond half.

But they did end up win­ning the soft group be­cause, with the United States in need of a three­goal vic­tory over Nicaragua to claim first place, de­fender Matt Mi­azga scored in the 88th minute for a 3-0 tri­umph at Cleve­land’s FirstEn­ergy Sta­dium.

Gra­ham Zusi served a free kick deep into the box. Mi­azga, a 21-year-old de­fender un­der con­tract with English power Chelsea, ran un­marked around the side and nod­ded in the wellplaced ball from four yards.

The Amer­i­cans (2-0-1) fin­ished tied with Panama (2-0-1) in points and goal dif­fer­en­tial but ahead on to­tal goals (7-6) in the 12-team re­gional com­pe­ti­tion. They will face the third-place team from Group A or C on Wed­nes­day at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field in Philadel­phia.

With­out Mi­azga’s late goal, the United States would have been paired with Costa Rica, the Group A win­ner (2-0-1). In­stead, Panama will play the Ti­cos, also Wed­nes­day in Philadel­phia.

Be­fore kick­off, the Amer­i­cans knew ex­actly what they needed to do. Ear­lier in the day, with a 3-0 vic­tory over Mar­tinique, Panama turned up the pres­sure on the United States.

Coach Bruce Arena had planned all along to use al­most ev­ery­one on the 23-man ros­ter in the group stage, and in the last match, he swapped out ev­ery starter from Wed­nes­day’s anx­ious per­for­mance against Mar­tinique. The changes in­cluded D.C. United goal­keeper Bill Hamid, whose pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ance came in Novem­ber 2014.

The Amer­i­cans ap­plied early pres­sure but didn’t sus­tain rhythm, strug­gled to con­nect passes and let the tempo drop.

With the half wind­ing down, Joe Corona shat­tered the dead­lock.

Ale­jan­dro Be­doya surged on the right flank and crossed to the top of the penalty area. Corona, the late run­ner, took one touch for­ward and a pair of touches to his right to dodge two de­fend­ers. His low ef­fort from 15 yards struck the hand of a slid­ing foe, Bis­marck Veliz, and skid­ded into the left cor­ner.

Early in the se­cond half, Dom Dwyer drew a penalty kick, then failed to con­vert as Justo Lorente blocked the waist-high shot tar­get­ing the left side.

Five min­utes later, the Amer­i­cans made no mis­takes. Be­doya in­ter­cepted a pass deep in Nicaragua’s end and tried work­ing a com­bi­na­tion with Dwyer. The ball de­flected back to Be­doya, who slid it wide to Ke­lyn Rowe for an eight-yard shot with his in­side foot. It took a slight de­flec­tion and beat Lorente to the near cor­ner for Rowe’s first in­ter­na­tional goal.

The Amer­i­cans got another chance from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute af­ter Daniel Cadena han­dled the ball in the box on Be­doya’s long run. Corona’s bid, though, was worse than Dwyer’s, a low at­tempt too close to the mid­dle of the net, al­low­ing Lorente to stuff it.

Luis Copete re­ceived his se­cond yel­low card in the 85th minute, leav­ing Nicaragua with 10 men. On the en­su­ing free kick, Mi­azga scored his dra­matic goal, his first for the United States.

DAVID RICHARD/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Matt Mi­azga (4) cel­e­brates his goal in Cleve­land that gave the U.S. the 3-0 re­sult it needed to fin­ish ahead of Panama in Group B.

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