Shorn of its most dynamic personalities for the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal against Honduras at Soldier Field in Chicago on Thursday, it prevailed, 2-0, with a few spectacular sequences and a nearly unbroken succession of solid stretches.
Clarence Goodson headed home a corner kick in the final seconds of first-half regulation time, and Kenny Cooper polished off a point-blank chance in the 90th minute to propel the Americans into their third consecutive Gold Cup final, and seventh since the competition came into its present form in 1991. The USA plays Mexico -- which beat Costa Rica on penalties, 5-3, following a 1-1 tie -- at Giants Stadium Sunday (3 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Univision) for the title.
A strong start, unlike its poor beginnings in many games the past two months, enabled the U.S. to knock Honduras off-stride and disrupt attempts to establish tempo and rhythm. It created a few early chances - Jay Heaps sent a torpedo diving header wide in the first minute, Brian Ching headed high on a Robbie Rogers cross - and stuck resolutely to its task of moving the ball efficiently even when the shots didn't go in.
Central midfielders Logan Pause and Kyle Beckerman were cautioned in the first half; the call on Beckerman seemed a dubious one, and a few rough Honduran fouls seemed intended to provoke a scuffle and perhaps a second yellow. But so infrequently did Honduras threaten the American midfielders and defenders won the ball through patience and decisive interventions at the proper time.
Honduras took most of their 10 shots from a considerable distance, and when its efforts tested keeper Troy Perkins, he came up shining. He flailed a shot off the crossbar with his fingertips after Marvin Chavez cut inside left back Heath Pearce to hit a dipping shot, and in the final minutes and the USA clinging to a 1-0 lead, he came out strongly yet under control to form a solid block from which Carlos Costly's shot rebounded away. When Costly chased down the carom to shoot again, Heaps raced across to snuff that effort as well.
The positioning and spacing of the forward and midfield lines channeled the Hondurans into double-teams and straight-up tackles they seldom won. Chad Marshall and Goodson repelled the high balls that Perkins couldn't reach, and the keeper reacted sharply to pounce on the few through balls that presented any danger. Walter Martinez worked both flanks in an effort to support forwards Costly and Carlos Mejia, but the latter never got into gear and Costly often ran out of options and space.
Pivoting off the central pair of Pause and Beckerman, Stuart Holden and Rogers dominated on the flanks. Holden assisted on both goals; his corner to Goodson highlighted several excellent deliveries on set plays; for the second goal he prompted an exchange of passes on the left flank, and then collected a clever back heel from Ching to center a pass that was easier for Cooper to score than to miss.
The Americans didn't need much luck but got some anyway. Though Honduras had some stretches of possession, rarely did anything threatening result, and the occasional funny bounce favored the Americans. Midway through the second half, Martinez hit a through ball with the U.S. back line retreating and spread out; as Goodson eyed his man and not the ball, it hit him on the leg. Problem solved.
July 23 in Chicago
USA 2 Honduras 0. Goals: Goodson 45+, Cooper 90.
USA -- Perkins, Heaps, C.Marshall, Goodson, Pearce, Holden, Pause, Beckerman, Rogers (Quaranta, 75), Ching, Arnaud (Cooper, 86)
Honduras -- Escober, Norales, Acevedo, O.Chavez (Welcome, 86), Medina;. C.Palacios, W.Martinez (Espinoza, 80), M.Valladares (Lalin, 90), M.Chavez, Costly, Mejia,
Yellow Cards: USA -- Pause 38, Beckerman 48, Arnaud 75; Honduras -- Costly 77.
Referee: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica).