Dempsey goal sends U.S. past Panama and into Gold Cup final.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, June 23, 2011) -- With a narrow 1-0 victory over stubborn Panama last night, the United States men moved on to their fourth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup final Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The match against Mexico, which scored twice in stoppage time to defeat Honduras in last night's second semi, will commence at 9 p.m. and be broadcast by Fox Soccer Channel and Spanish-language Univision.
The Americans' winning margin was thanks to a great combination of two passes that led to Clint Dempsey's goal in the 77th minute before 70,267 at sold-out Reliant Stadium in Houston.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley made a key substitution in the 66th minute, bringing on midfielder Freddy Adu for his first appearance with the U.S. men since the 2009 Gold Cup. He replaced ineffective striker Juan Agudelo (who replaced injured Jozy Altidore) with Dempsey moving up to the front line.
"It was very important for me, personally, and very important for the team," Adu said. "I haven't stepped on the field for the national team in over two years. To get a chance to be out there, I was very happy and very fortunate. The goal as a substitute is to get out there and bring a lot of energy and make a difference. It worked out well."
Eleven minutes later, sent a 50-yard cross to the midfielder Landon Donovan, who entered at halftime and was streaking down the right side. Donovan carried the ball deep, cut into the side of the penalty area and sent a low pass to the far post where a sliding Clint Dempsey steered it into the net with his left foot.
Dempsey, who held himself onside perfectly, accounted for the Americans' only shot on goal for the game.
"It was a good play," Donovan said. "We got out of our end well. I made a run forward and I wasn't sure that Freddy saw me, but he played a great ball. My first thought was to hit it first time to Clint, but I saw the defender back off so I wanted to be aggressive. 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."
Neither team displayed much offense last night. Panama outshot the U.S. 8-5, 2-1 on frame. Panama goal keeper Jaime Penedo failed on his only save opportunity, while American Tim Howard made two saves.
The match was played mainly in the midfield with neither side gaining much of an advantage throughout.
"It was a frustrating match in the sense that it was real tight," Dempsey said. "We found it difficult trying to get the ball in between lines. They were a very organized team. That's why they are in the semifinals. 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."
Panama seemed to surprise the U.S. by almost completely changing tactics from its 2-1 upset win in Group C. In the earlier meeting, Panama went back into a tight defensive shell and exploded out in counter-attacks to get numbers of players forward. Last night, Panama kept a much higher defensive line, contesting for the ball in the American end and playing more offense then in the first game.
Panama was without its most dangerous player, forward Blas Perez, who was suspended after picking up a red card against El Salvador in the quarterfinal. He had caused the U.S. fits in group play.
Moreover, defensively, Panama used a system of zone marking which proved more effective than man marking because the U.S. did not move all that well off the ball. It seemed every time an American controlled a pass in the Panama end, he was surrounded by defenders.
"It was a really good team effort, a hard game for sure, but in all ways I thought that the mentality of the group was looking for ways to win," Bradley said. "The first half, I thought in stretches, we had a pretty good rhythm with the ball. The second half was harder. Panama did a good job keeping things very tight and now you have to look for different ways to win the game. Defensively, we were solid and I thought we put a very good play together to score a great goal."
The big surprise of the match was Donovan, a leader and considered the best American player, started the proceedings on the bench. Bradley went with the same lineup as the quarterfinal 1-0 defeat of Jamaica, making only one change in inserting Agudelo in place of Altidore, out with a strained hamstring for four-to-six weeks. Bradley, as he did against Jamaica, sent Donovan on to start the second half and he eventually his prescient pass found Dempsey for the winner.
Given that earlier in the group play, Donovan faded in and out of matches, maybe he is more valuable coming off the bench against a tiring opponent. After the match, Donovan said he was not surprised he started on the bench.
"Not surprised at all," Donovan said. "Bob and I spoke about it all week. . . We 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."
The U.S. met Mexico in the last two Gold Cup championship games. The Americans won 2-1 in 2007, while Mexico defeated a U.S. "B" squad 5-0 in 2009. Saturday's winner will earn a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Not called on to do much, but was there when he was needed. Once again. He earned a clean sheet.
Defender Eric Lichaj - 5.5: Forced to play more defensively than earlier in this tournament, he could make only a few of the deep runs he did with consistency against Jamaica. He still is more of a midfielder then a pure defender, but did well in that role when he needed to.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Was seemingly never out of position as he stopped Panama's best attackers.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 6.5: His long legs again made several last-second clearances that were perhaps match savers. Made few errors in a very solid effort.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 7: With Panama pushed forward, he was not able to make many of the long offensive runs he did against Jamaica. But, once again, he was the best U.S. defender with stop after stop.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5.5: Was a bit constrained by carrying a yellow card when another would keep him out of the final. In the first half, his passes were off the mark, but he did much better over the final 45 minutes.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5: Generally. a decent 45 minutes with a high work rate. Won some very good balls, but saw many of his passes go astray.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 7: On two days rest, he ran hard for 90-plus minutes and scored the winning goal by outrunning two defenders to be in position to convert Donovan's cross.
Midfielder Michael Bradley 5.5: Made no major errors and certainly won a lot of balls in the defensive end, but he could not make that key linking pass to break someone free. A good, but not great, effort.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 5.5: Again played wide on the right and displayed a toughness that was needed in a match like this one. He was never really able to create a clean exchange, but won a lot of balls.
Forward Juan Agudelo 5: Often playing as a lone striker, he was no match physically for Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy, who moved him out of his game with ease.
Midfielder Landon Donovan (46th minute for Kljestan) - 6: One moment of brilliance in an otherwise lackluster half. Stayed out on the wings and was really not into the match except for that one great run up the right side and cross that created the goal.
Midfielder Freddy Adu (66th minute for Agudelo) - 6. A truly brilliant 50-yard pass to help set up the goal was a moment of redemption for surely the most hard-luck player on the U.S. roster. We'll just have to see if a good 25-minute appearance means he is back in the rotation.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Clint Dempsey.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.