Dempsey, USMNT finally break out at Gold Cup with win over Costa Rica to reach final

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The irony was everywhere in the United States men’s national team’s 2-0 victory over Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semifinals on Saturday, sending the Americans to Wednesday’s final against Mexico or Jamaica. Clint Dempsey’s goal, which followed Jozy Altidore’s, tied him with Landon Donovan as the all-time leading scorer for the USA with 57 international goals.

In the first of the ironies, these sides last played in a World Cup qualifier down in Costa Rica in November, when the Ticos had so resoundingly trounced the Americans, 4-0, that U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s experimental time in charge was cut short. He was replaced by Bruce Arena, a retread who has now brought the U.S. to the final of the regional tournament — Klinsmann’s other great failing, when it was upset by Jamaica in the semifinal in 2015.

Granted, Klinsmann’s games were between full A-teams. This one, at best, was between A- or B+ teams, now that the American second-stringers have been shored up with a handful of veteran ringers ahead of the Gold Cup knockout stages.

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But that doesn’t dull the impression that the U.S. attack often overwhelmed Costa Rica with its high press, width, interchanges and audacious initiative. It looked an awful lot like the kind of soccer Klinsmann promised but never delivered. Arena set no such lofty goals, promising to keep things simple, but has coaxed better soccer from this team.

And whereas Klinsmann lost his final two games in charge, Arena has not yet lost in the 13 games since his return — including eight wins and four in a row.

The Americans controlled the first half but chances were sparse nonetheless. The biggest came right from the kickoff. A Graham Zusi long ball found its way to Altidore via Paul Arriola. Altidore flicked it on for Jordan Morris, who smashed it off the near post.

A quarter of an hour in, Altidore intercepted a pass, eventually got it back on a splendid ball from Morris and cut back for Kellyn Acosta. But the ball was behind the trailing midfielder and he couldn’t get his foot around it.

Tim Howard, meanwhile, stood tall when called upon for the only time in the first half when he denied Marco Urena one-on-one with a great kick save.

Costa Rica emerged from halftime much livelier, which opened the game up for the Americans. Tico goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton initially stood in the way though, parrying a rocket from Altidore and a vicious shot from outside the box from Acosta, set up by Dempsey, who had just come on.

Urena was again denied by Howard, after Omar Gonzalez misread a play. And then, at the other end, Dempsey received the ball between the lines, ran at the defense and then sprung Altidore. His finish in the 72nd minute was cool and collected.

Dempsey slowly and meticulously measured out a free kick 10 minutes later. And then he curled it, low and hard, around the wall to the near post, where he caught Pemberton out of his range.

And so, after a pensive start to this tournament, when the Americans slogged to a 1-1 tie against Panama and barely eked out a 3-2 win over little Martinique before they got going against lowly Nicaragua and a dirty El Salvador, they are in the final nonetheless.

The USA has won the Gold Cup just once in the last four editions, an intolerable fallow spell for a program with ambitions of finally breaking into the world’s elite. Mexico, meanwhile, has won three of four. Chances are, they’ll meet again on Wednesday, provided El Tri take care of Jamaica.

They have met five times in the final of this tournament previously. Mexico has won four times, including most recently in 2009 and 2011. An opportunity might present itself to build some momentum ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Russia, even if it’s a B(ish)-team tournament.

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

More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
Mexico slips past Honduras, into Gold Cup semis
Goals early in both halves lift Jamaica past Canada
Hideous own goal helps Costa Rica oust Panama

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