US Soccer Advances to Gold Cup Final On Dempsey's Goal
The United States defeated Panama 1-0 Wednesday night in Houston, avengig their loss to the Central Americans in the group stage and setting up a final date with Mexico on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
This year's edition of the Gold Cup marked the first time in the competition's history that the United States suffered a group stage loss and failed to win their group. Uninspiring play even in victories, like the one Wednesday night over Panama, hasn't done much to quiet the team's critics. Still, the Americans keep advancing.
Clint Dempsey's 76th-minute goal was the difference in a drab affair that left the United States pleased with the result, if not with their performance.
"It was a frustrating match in the sense that it was real tight," Dempsey said. "I think we showed our quality in being able to grind out a result even when it wasn't our best game, and now we find ourselves in the final."
Dempsey celebrated his goal by repeatedly pointing at Landon Donovan, who provided the assist on the play. The team's all-time leading goal scorer, Donovan started the match on the bench for the second straight game, but came in for midfielder Sacha Kljestan at the beginning of the second half.
Donovan said he understood coach Bob Bradley's decision to not start him.
"Not surprised at all," Donovan said. "[Bob and I] spoke about it and agreed that the team played very well the other night. We were on the same page, and I wanted to make sure that when I came in I could make an impact."
Both sides got off to a slow start in the first half, with the game stuck in the midfield for the first 20 minutes. The United States nearly opened the scoring in the 25th minute, with their best chance of the half.
Defender Steve Cherundolo, one of the Americans' most consistent players throughout the tournament, wiggled his way free down the right flank and put in a cross toward the near post. 18-year-old forward Juan Agudelo headed the cross off of the near post and Kljestan's follow-up shot was blocked, allowing the Panamanians to survive a close call.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who was a last minute addition to the Americans' Gold Cup squad, was the United States most active player, combining well with Agudelo and Dempsey and drawing yellow card fouls from Panama's Armando Cooper and Luis Henriquez.
Dempsey's weakly hit overhead shot in the 37th minute that landed safely in Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo's hands was the only other real goal scoring opportunity for either side in the first half.
Donovan entered the match to start the second half, but it was Panama who looked the improved side after the break.
Panama began to control more of the possession and almost broke the deadlock in the 61st minute. Cooper ran free down the left flank and sent in a well-paced cross into the center of the box. American captain Carlos Bocanegra whiffed on his attempted clearance and Panama midfielder Alberto Quintero, open in front of Howard, couldn't get his leg up in time to get a touch on the ball.
Bradley raised some eyebrows again in the 66th minute, when he brought midfielder Freddy Adu back from the international soccer wilderness, substituting him for Agudelo. Adu, the former phenom who turned pro at age 14, hadn't played for the United States in nearly two years and was a shock inclusion in Bradley's Gold Cup squad. Now 22 years old and playing in the Turkish second division, Adu hasn't yet lived up to the hype that surrounded him eight years ago, but was pleased to suit up for his country again.
"To get a chance to be out there, I was very happy and very fortunate," Adu said. "The goal as a substitute is to get out there and bring a lot of energy and make a difference. It worked out well."
Panama continued to attack and forced United States goalkeeper Tim Howard into a difficult save in the 70th minute. Cooper got free in the box and fired a shot on frame from 10 yards out that Howard tipped over the crossbar.
Bradley's controversial substitutions paid off in the 76th minute. Adu received the ball in the midfield circle and played a perfectly weighted looping pass to Donovan down the right flank. The Los Angeles Galaxy star controlled the ball and then fired a low hard cross to the far post. Dempsey outmuscled Panama defender Adolfo Machado and stuck out his left leg, redirecting the ball past Penedo for the lead.
"I saw the defender back off so I wanted to be aggressive," Donovan said about the assist. "I ran at him, and Clint and I made good eye contact. I knew if it was going to get there I had to hit it hard. Clint made a great play to get his foot on it."
Panama could only muster two half chances in the dying moments of the game, a long strike right at Howard by Amilcar Henriquez in the 84th minute and a lunging effort wide of the near post by Anibal Godoy in the third minute of stoppage time.
Though Panama is now eliminated, coach Julio Dely Valdes was pleased with his team's performance in the tournament and with the nation's first Gold Cup semifinal appearance since 2005.
"It was sincerely better than what I had hoped for," Dely Valdes said. "We knew from the start that it was a complicated tournament. We continued growing and we leave feeling proud...I think Panama showed at a very competitive level and this is very important heading into the World Cup qualifiers."
News and Notes
-- After rolling to three straight group stage victories by a combined score of 14-1, Mexico has come up against significantly stronger resistance in the knockout portion of the tournament. The Mexicans came from behind to defeat Guatemala 2-1 in the quarterfinals and needed extra time on Wednesday night to break a scoreless tie with Honduras, eventually winning 2-0 behind goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez in the 93rd and 99th minutes. Hernandez and de Nigris have combined for 11 goals in the tournament, three more than the United States has scored as a team.
-- The United States and Mexico will meet for the 58th time in top-flight internationals on Saturday night, with the Mexicans leading the series 31-15 with 11 draws. The teams have met in the Gold Cup final four times, the Mexicans winning in 1993, 1998 and 2009 and the Americans taking the trophy in 2007. Mexico won the 2009 final 5-0 in New Jersey against a United States team that was without its top players. Including friendly matches, the United States leads the series 8-4-2 since 2000, and is 9-1-2 on American soil.