U.S. advances to Gold Cup semifinals with 6-0 blowout of Cuba (Video)

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U.S. advances to Gold Cup semifinals with 6-0 blowout of Cuba (Video)
U.S. advances to Gold Cup semifinals with 6-0 blowout of Cuba (Video)

In just the first half of its Gold Cup quarterfinal against Cuba, the United States men's national team scored as many goals as it had the entire group stage. And then the Americans got two more to humiliate an overmatched Cuban side 6-0 on Saturday, thanks in large part to a Clint Dempsey hat trick.

[FC Yahoo: Unexpected transformation begins for U.S. men's national team]

Laboring through Baltimore's 93 degree heat index, the U.S. easily advanced to Wednesday's semifinals, where it will face the winner of the Haiti-Jamaica quarterfinal slated to be played later in the day at M&T Bank Stadium.

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Cuba, which had given up eight goals in just three group stage games, had somehow advanced in spite of scoring just once – in a 1-0 win over Guatemala. But by the time the Cubans appeared for kickoff, five players had defected and two more were injured.

[Gold Cup: Latest news | Scores and Schedule | Group Standings | Teams]

The Americans, meanwhile, had finally found something resembling a rhythm in the second half of their 1-1 tie with Panama last Monday, after slogging to unflattering wins over Honduras and Haiti. And against a visibly dispirited team, they had no trouble building on their growing form and running up the score early.

In just the fourth minute, Fabian Johnson set up a nice attack up the left wing. The ball was played across the box and laid back by Gyasi Zardes for Timmy Chandler. The latter sent a cross soaring to Clint Dempsey, who leaped unmarked and dumped his header over Diosvelis Guerra and into the net.

A short while later, a wide-open Johnson deposited a lofted ball right onto the foot of Zardes, who had strolled all too easily past his defender and redirected the ball past Guerra.

After a few more good looks, Aron Johannsson scored the goal of the game – and maybe of this entire, forgettable tournament. Michael Bradley found him over the top with a 60-odd-yard ball, which freed the Icelandic-American striker at the edge of the box. With Guerra caught somewhere between staying on the line and charging out, Johannsson lobbed the ball splendidly over the goalie and in off the underside of the cross bar.

Then, on the edge of halftime, Johannsson kept a Bradley corner inbounds beyond the far post and nodded it back for Omar Gonzalez, who slid it through traffic and into the goal.

At head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's insistence, the USA kept up its toil in the second half when it could have sauntered to the final whistle. After a flurry of chances, it paid off in the 64th minute when Johannsson was shoved down by a defender in the box and Dempsey clipped a Panenka through the middle.

Then, on the umpteenth chance, Bradley connected in the box with Dempsey, who feigned a defender out of his way and then stabbed in his sixth goal of the tournament with the outside of his boot to complete his hat trick and register the final score.

Dempsey's monster production in this tournament – scoring every last one of the Americans' goals in their first two games and then setting up the equalizer in the third, all before Saturday's hat trick (his first for the U.S.) – underscores both his enduring importance to the national team and the role a perceived lack of appreciation and respect appears to play in his performance.

Ever since the ostracizing and subsequent retirement of Landon Donovan, Dempsey is the team's only player to consistently provide a creative spark in the final third while also acting as its most dangerous goal scorer. But he has also seemed rejuvenated at this Gold Cup after he was widely criticized for his behavior in an unsightly incident with his Seattle Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup last month, when he ripped up a referee's notebook. He was handed two separate suspensions and stripped of his national team captaincy.

[FC Yahoo: Follow United States vs. Cuba as it happened]

It seems that Dempsey, who has struggled for the plaudits he was entitled to for almost his entire career, has fed off that negativity. While he has been productive for the Sounders, he's the best player there and no longer has to claw and scrape for every minute of playing time, let alone the recognition. While he's hardly become complacent, he perhaps felt for the first time in years like he has had something to prove for the USMNT coming into this tournament. And, as ever, when Dempsey is aggravated, he's at his very best.

But how much stock the Americans should put into their win, exactly, is hard to assess. Their offense was potent and their overall performance complete. But then again, they were only playing against a fetid Cuba side, by far their weakest opponent of the tournament thus far.

All the same, it will have further buttressed their building confidence after two-and-a-half shaky games to begin this Gold Cup. Two more wins now separate the U.S. from a second consecutive Gold Cup title – and an automatic berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup.

And perhaps Saturday's game will prove to have been the turning point in the campaign.

Or maybe it was only Cuba.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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