Shaq Moore (20) celebrates his goal with midfielder Kellyn Acosta (23). Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Funny game, this soccer.

The United States struck like lightning, but showed very little thunder afterwards.

Only 20 seconds after the opening kickoff, Shaq Moore gave the Americans the lead and they dominated for about the next 15 minutes.

After that, many observers felt there might have been one team on the field at Canada grabbed the upper hand for the rest of the way. Yet, the U.S. men’s national team, playing a subpar game on several levels, managed to register a 1-0 victory and capture Group B of the Concacaf Gold Cup at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. Sunday night.

The USMNT captured its group for the 14th in its last 17 Gold Cup tournaments as it will play the either the Group C runner-up, Costa Rica or Jamaica, in the quarterfinals next Sunday.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner made three saves to preserve the clean sheet and win, denying Tajon Buchanan 35 seconds into the second half and then Lucas Cavallini four minutes into stoppage time.

While it was hardly anything close to a classic victory, U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter praised his troops.

“It was an amazing start to the game and then there was a lot of suffering,” he said, “knowing what we had to do knowing that we wanted to win the group. The guys persevered and showed amazing character, an amazing effort under really difficult conditions, namely the heat and the opponent having the ball for a large portion of the game.”

Asked to elaborated on the team’s suffering, Berhalter replied: “On these type of conditions when you have the ball, you need to keep the ball. because when you don’t have the ball, it’s going to be difficult to get it back. It’s hard to bring the the high intensity in weather like this. You need intensity to win the ball back. For us it was a matter of just keeping the ball, making them run at times we didn’t really well in the first half. Second half, very rarely did we keep it and then we ended up defending.”

Moore put home a Sebastien Lletget feed from the left flank past goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau for his first international goal, lifting the USA into the lead. It was the earliest goal in USMNT history.

Though he was playing at right back, Moore found himself well up the field on the goal.

“With the system we play with the 352 with the wingbacks [Berhalter] always wants to get in the box and try to be dangerous,” he said. “Today I was able to get to the back post and on and on tap it in.”

The goal definitely lifted the USA and the hosts played as though it was ready to double or triple the lead over the next quarter hour.

Berhalter likened the U.S.’s early goal to what England accomplished in the Euro 2020 final against Italy. England did a lot of defending the rest of the match as Italy prevailed via penalty kicks.

“They score within two minutes and everyone thinks that’s great, and it is great, but you make the match very difficult now,” he said. “You have to manage the next 89 and a half minutes, and at times we did it really well, and at times we didn’t.”

Then, the Americans suddenly lost it, losing any momentum they had built up.

The midfield, which was led by Sporting Kansas City’s 19-year-old wonder Gianluca Busio, lost its momentum and Canada started to start the USA in waves. Daryl Dike, who secured a brace in the 6-1 win over Martinique Thursday, was an invisible man on the pitch.

It certainly did not help that the U.S. lost center back Walker Zimmerman to an injury in the opening minute. D.C. United’s Donovan Pines replaced him and he had his moments, good and bad.

So did center back Miles Robinson, who made several key defensive stops in the waning moments.

It was a lesson and a half for a young American team, many players who had but a couple of international matches.

“We have a young, sometimes naive, innocent group,” substitute Cristian Roldan said. “Guys that haven’t played in too many Concacaf games that are difficult; the refereeing is different, the competition is different. So we have to be savvier in the way we close out games.”

As crazy as it was, the USMNT managed to live and talk about it, closing out this affair.