The U.S. men's national team stumbled in its Gold Cup opener against consistent adversary Panama, settling for a 1-1 draw, and it very nearly stumbled again against a more overmatched opponent.
Taking on upstart Caribbean island nation Martinique, the USA got out to a 2-0 lead, then blew it in an eight-minute span before Jordan Morris's second goal of the night delivered a 3-2 win that vaulted the USA into first in Group B. The teams played a scoreless first half before the floodgates opened, with Omar Gonzalez and Morris scoring 10 minutes apart. Kevin Parsemain answered with a double of his own, though, only to have Morris respond seconds later with the eventual game-winner.
The USA is even with Panama atop the group with four points but holds the tiebreaker via goals scored heading into Saturday's group finale.
USA manager Bruce Arena made good on his plans to rotate his lineup, featuring eight changes (only Kellyn Acosta, Gonzalez and Brad Guzan were holdovers from the Panama draw), and the Americans threatened with their first foray forward. Gyasi Zardes curled a ball toward the far post that was just out of reach for a leaping Juan Agudelo in the second minute.
Zardes rifled in another cross from the left moments later, but Jordan Morris couldn't direct it on goal from close range, instead putting it out for a goal kick.
Morris had another opportunity in the 11th minute off a free kick from Acosta. Morris had to lean back to make contact, and that forced him to put an inaccurate header toward the goal, one that went just wide of the left post.
Morris then played the role of provider for Agudelo, who had his chance from the left channel blocked by a sliding Nicolas Zaire in the 27th minute.
At the half-hour mark, Zardes had an opportunity to fire on goal, but he scuffed it from just inside the box and straightaway, allowing for an easy save by Kevin Olimpa.
Martinique came inches away from taking a shock lead in the 33rd minute through its all-time leading scorer, as Parsemain's deflected chance hit off the right post after beating Guzan.
A third dangerous Zardes cross from the left nearly set up another U.S. chance as the Americans responded to the Martinique threat on the other end. Paul Arriola's header was blocked and put out by Antoine Jean-Baptiste, though, preventing the clear look on frame.
Martinique nearly struck twice in the final minutes of the first half. First, Johan Audel put an absolutely free header off a corner kick just wide of the far post.
Then, after a turnover, Parsemain forced a save from Guzan, peppering the goalkeeper with a powerful shot from long range.
The USA came out aggressive in the second half and nearly scored a couple of minutes in. Agudelo's long-range shot was deflected and looped right into the path of Arriola, but he put his sliding chance off the crossbar, keeping the game scoreless.
After each side put chances on frame, the USA finally found its breakthrough, and it came through an unusual source. Gonzalez was first to the rebound after Arriola's low, long-range chance off a corner kick was parried in front of the goal, and he converted to give the USA a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute with his second career international goal.
The USA doubled its lead just over 10 minutes later through Morris. The sequence began with Alejandro Bedoya, fresh off the bench for Acosta, playing Lichaj through on the right. The right back fired his cross in toward the near post, and Morris met it perfectly to give the USA a 2-0 edge.
Martinique responded immediately, though, cutting the lead to 2-1 in the 66th minute. Parsemain put a rather innocuous chance from long range on goal, tucking it inside the right post, with Guzan appearing to simply miss a rather routine chance.
Martinique then stunned the USA with a second, also through Parsemain, who got the final touch after Audel's blast toward the goal deflected off the forward eight minutes later.
The scoreline didn't last long. Morris scored his second after Zardes settled and crossed from the left, and the Seattle Sounders forward finished confidently from the center of the box to make it 3-2 in the 76th minute.
The USA saw out the match from there and will face 0-2-0 Nicaragua in Saturday's finale, while Martinique plays for its tournament life against Panama.
Here are the rosters for both sides:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
GOALKEEPERS: Loïc Chauvet (CS Case-Pilote); Kevin Olimpa (Platanias FC/GRE); Emmanuel Vermignon (Club Colonial)
DEFENDERS: Sebastien Cretinoir (Golden Lion de Saint-Joseph); Jordy Delem (Seattle Sounders FC 2); Gerald Dondon (Club Colonial); Antoine Jean-Baptiste (FC Villefranche); Florian Narcissot (Club Franciscain); Karl Vitulin (AS Samaritaine); Nicolas Zaire (Club Franciscain)
MIDFIELDERS: Stephane Abaul (Club Franciscain); Daniel Herelle (Golden Lion de Saint-Joseph); Christof Jougon (Club Franciscain); Djenhael Mainge (Club Franciscain); Jean-Manuel Nedra (Aiglon du Lamentin); Yann Thimon (Golden Lion de Saint-Joseph)
FORWARDS: Anthony Angely (Poitiers FC); Yoann Arquin (Mansfield Town FC); Johan Audel (Beitar Jerusalem FC); Steeven Langil (Waasland-Beveren); Johnny Marajo (Club Franciscain); Kevin Parsemain (Golden Lion de Saint-Joseph); Gregory Pastel (RC Rivière-Pilote)