[USA-PANAMA] Clint Dempsey's goal late in the second half gave the USA a 1-0 win over Panama and moved it into the final of the Gold Cup for fourth straight time. Dempsey teamed up with two very improbable substitutions -- Landon Donovan, again coming off the bench, and Freddy Adu, making his first U.S. appearance since 2009 -- for the winning goal that sent the Americans to Saturday's final against the Mexico-Honduras winner at the Rose Bowl.
Dempsey's goal was his third goal of the tournament and came after Adu fed Donovan down the right wing, and Donovan fed Dempsey, who scored from close range in the 76th minute.
Here are three points of emphasis following the win in Houston by which the USA has qualified for its sixth consecutive Gold Cup final:
MUCH ADU ABOUT SOMETHING. When he went to Turkey during the winter to play for Rizespor of the Second Division, Freddy Adu – as he’d done for several previous loan spells – said many of the same things about reviving his career, finding the right mentality, etc., etc.
Well, the Freddy Adu who entered a tense, scoreless semifinal did his talking with his play. His diagonal ball from the center circle that freed Landon Donovan down the right flank to set up Clint Dempsey’s goal oozed with class; hit with just right mix of bend and pace, Donovan could control it easily and had the time to center his own pass at just the right moment.
Adu didn’t play flawlessly, he gave away a couple of balls in bad spots but the USA managed to defuse the situations. As the clock wound down he dug into tackles and took the ball past opponents to eat up time. After an absence of two years, since the last Gold Cup in 2009, Adu has regained a place in the national team pool if not necessarily as a regular callup. But for a 22-year-old (as of June 2) with a lot of pro experience, he’s in a good spot.
COACHING ACUMEN STRIKES AGAIN. Coach Bob Bradley elected to keep Donovan on the bench and start the same XI as he’d used against Jamaica, with the exception of Juan Agudelo replacing an injured Jozy Altidore. Sacha Kljestan couldn’t replicate his effective, incisive play against Jamaica as he and Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya interchanged positions, so Kljestan came off at halftime for Donovan.
Adu replaced Agudelo midway through the second half, and soon afterward collected a ball from Michael Bradley to set the scoring sequence in motion. Yet Adu’s return isn’t the only gutsy move made by Coach Bradley in this tournament.
Despite struggling offensively and making attacking changes, the defense posted yet another shutout -- its third straight in the competition -- while allowing very few clear chances at goal. Bradley’s decision to move captain Carlos Bocanegra into the middle alongside Clarence Goodson was predicated on confidence in Eric Lichaj, who has been loaned out by Aston Villa to lower-division teams the past three years, yet overcame a very rough day against Spain to emerge as a solid performer at left back. And he’s also only 22.
'CINCO A CERO!' That cry will be heard incessantly Saturday at the Rose Bowl, site of the final, as a pro-Mexican crowd reminds the world of the scoreline when Mexico romped over the Americans two years ago.
The game will be a classic case of the USA playing an away match at home in a fiercely hostile atmosphere, yet in the three meetings between the nations in Pasadena, the Americans have a 1-0 win (1994) and 2-2 tie (1996) to go along with a 2-0 loss in 1997. And, most of the pressure will be on Mexico.
June 22 in Houston
USA 1 Panama 0. Goal: Dempsey 76.
USA -- Howard, Cherundolo, Goodson, Bocanegra, Lichaj, Bradley, Jones, Bedoya, Kljestan (Donovan, 46), Dempsey, Agudelo (Adu, 66).
Panama -- Penedo, R.Torres, Machado, L.Henriquez, Baloy, Gomez (Godoy, 86), Barahona (G.Torres, 86), Cooper (Renteria, 71), A.Henriquez, Quintero, Tejada.
Yellow Cards: USA -- Bocanegra 68; Panama -- Cooper 18, L.Henriquez 36, Gomez 72.
Referee: Enrico Wijngaarde (Suriname).