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Clint Dempsey has revealed how paying an emotional tribute to his late sister last weekend gave him extra motivation to lead the United States to victory in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The USA forward was given special dispensation from coach Bob Bradley to jet to Texas for the wedding of his younger sister Crystal on Saturday, then joining up with his teammates hours before the team's 2-0 quarterfinal win over Jamaica in Washington, D.C.
The wedding ceremony included a moving scene where Crystal laid her bouquet at the grave of her and Clint's eldest sister, Jennifer, a promising tennis player, who died of a brain aneurysm at age 16. Throughout his professional career, Dempsey has pointed to the sky every time he has scored a goal, in remembrance of Jennifer.
"After the wedding we were able to go to [Jennifer's] tombstone and [Crystal] put the bouquet down," Dempsey said. "That was a special moment that I got to share with my family, and I was glad I was able to get back and help the team win."
Landon Donovan and Dempsey were both given permission to attend family functions before the game, decisions that left Bradley open to criticism, but which had universal support within the squad.
Donovan jetted to California for his twin sister Tristan's wedding, and came on as a second-half substitute against Jamaica. Dempsey played the full 90 minutes.
"It meant a lot to myself and Clint," Donovan said. "I know we get caught up in the soccer world but there are certainly things that are equally if not more important to us."
The Jamaica result was a step in the right direction for the Americans, who were trounced 4-0 by world champion Spain in a friendly at the start of June and stumbled through Gold Cup group play.
Bradley and his players are aware that tougher tests lay ahead, beginning with a semifinal revenge mission against Panama at Houston's Reliant Stadium on Wednesday. Panama shocked the hosts with a 2-1 win in Tampa last week, the first time the USA had ever lost a Gold Cup group match.
Even so, the USA will go into its semifinal as a favorite and should be better prepared the second time around. A positive outcome would likely set up a mouthwatering championship showdown against Mexico, which is expected to defeat Honduras in the other semifinal.
Dempsey knows that the next few days will have a big impact on the vibe of the national team moving forward, especially with Bradley's position under scrutiny. He insisted the USA will have a point to prove against Panama as it tries to live up to its status as one of two dominant forces in the CONCACAF region.
"I don't think we necessarily played that bad in the first game [against Panama]," he said. "We just started slow. As the game went on we could have easily equalized, but we didn't take our chances.
"As the tournament has gone on we have gained in confidence and gained in form so we are peaking at the right time. All we can go out and do is to try our best because we want to win this tournament. It is important for us: We want to qualify for the Confederations Cup and we want to be moving forward as a soccer team."
Victory in the Gold Cup would secure the side's place in the 2013 Confederations Cup, an important warm-up tournament held a year before each World Cup that provided valuable preparation for the Americans in 2009.
For Dempsey, the desire for the national team to succeed is strong, and the emotional events of the past week have given him perspective.