Jordan Morris and his U.S. teammates celebrate his game-winning goal. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
TAMPA, Florida — A sloppy United States team needed Jordan Morris to rescue it from itself Wednesday night.
Morris, who entered the match with two international goals, doubled his production, including the game-winner to lift the Americans to a 3-2 Group B victory over Martinique in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Seattle Sounders forward snapped a 2-2 deadlock, beating goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa in the 76th minute after the USA squandered a two-goal advantage in the second half before a crowd of 23,368.
The result at Raymond James Stadium boosted the Americans to a 1-0-1 mark and four points, which tied Panama, 2-1 winners over Nicaragua in the opening game of the doubleheader, for the group lead with the same record and points.
The U.S., however, moved atop the group because it has scored more goals (four to three) than its Central American rivals.
“I thought we played well tonight,” U.S. head coach Bruce Arena said. “We’re guilty of making the game more difficult than it needed to be, but give Martinique credit.”
And give Morris a lot of credit. After all, he had but two goals in 18 international matches entering the night.
“Jordan Morris runs very well in the penalty area,” Arena said. “We told the guys at halftime that we had to get to near post. Was good to see.”
Arena made eight changes to his Starting XI from the 1-1 draw with Panama Saturday, keeping only goalkeeper Brad Guzan, center back Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
“One of the things we’re trying to do in this tournament is look at players in our pool we haven’t seen much of,” Arena said.
After a scoreless first half, the teams went on a scoring spree in the second half.
First, Gonzalez tallied his second international goal in 42 appearances when he slammed in a rebound of a Paul Arriola shot from point-blank range in the 53rd minute.
Morris, who had a few close encounters in front of the Martinique net early on, doubled the lead in the 64th minute as he slotted home an Eric Lichaj feed. Olimpa was ready to gather in the ball, but Morris swept in and knocked the ball home for a 2-0 margin.
But as the old saying goes, the most dangerous lead in soccer is a two-goal lead as both teams showed why.
Forward Kevin Parsemain, Martinique’s most dangerous players all night, sent a 22-yard shot that Guzan couldn’t handle at the right post to cut the lead in half in the 66th minute. He has scored in three straight Gold Cup matches.
Parsemain equalized at 2-2, scoring from the left side of the box in the 75th minute.
A minute later, Morris went into action one more time to give the U.S. a much-needed lift.
USA – Omar Gonzalez 53rd minute
USA – Jordan Morris (Eric Lichaj) 64
MTQ – Kévin Parsemain (Stéphane Abaul) 66
MTQ – Kévin Parsemain (Johan Audel) 74
USA – Jordan Morris (Gyasi Zardes) 76
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 15-Eric Lichaj, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 21-Matt Hedges, 16-Justin Morrow; 20-Paul Arriola (7-Chris Pontius, 73), 23-Kellyn Acosta (11-Alejandro Bedoya, 62), 17-Cristian Roldan, 9-Gyasi Zardes; 18-Juan Agudelo (13-Dax McCarty, 86), 8-Jordan Morris
Subs not used : 12- Bill Hamid, 22- Sean Johnson , 2- Jorge Villafaña, 4- Matt Miazga, 5- Matt Besler, 6- Kelyn Rowe, 10- Joe Corona, 14- Dom Dwyer, 19- Graham Zusi
Head coach: Bruce Arena
MTQ : 23-Kévin Olimpa; 5-Karl Vitulin, 8-Jordy Delem, 21-Sébastien Cretinoir (capt.), 3-Antoine Jean-Baptiste; 20-Stéphane Abaul, 19-Daniel Herelle (22-Johnny Marajo, 78), 11-Johan Audel; 2-Nicolas Zaire (18-Jean-Manuel Nedra, 56), 17-Kévin Parsemain, 12-Yoann Arquin (10-Steeven Langil, 64)
Subs not used: 1-Emmanuel Vermignon, 4-Florian Narcissot, 6-Djenhael Mainge, 7-Grégory Pastel, 9-Antony Angely, 13-Christof Jougon, 14-Yann Thimon, 15-Gérald Dondon, 16-Loïc Chauvet
Head Coach: Jean-March Civalut
Stats Summary: USA / MTQ
Shots: 8 / 7
Shots on Goal: 3 / 1
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 8 / 1
Fouls: 8 / 5
Offside: 2 / 0
MTQ – Karl Vitulin (caution) 62nd minute
USA – Justin Morrow (caution) 82
Referee: Henry Bejarano (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Carlos Fernandez (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Geovany Garcia (SLV)
Fourth Official: Juan Gabriel Calderon (CRC)
Man of the Match: Jordan Morris