The USA entered the Gold Cup with dual goals of getting deep into the tournament to get a look as many players as possible and give itself a chance of winning a trophy. It's done just that with a 2-0
win over Costa Rica in the semifinals thanks to its best performance of the tournament.
1. Dempsey again shows off his special qualities.
In his last appearance before the
Gold Cup, Clint Dempsey exited the World Cup qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago and was none too happy, showing off his displeasure with Coach Bruce Arena's decision to
substitute him. With Christian Pulisic's emergence as the prime attacker, Dempsey's role in the team has changed. And with Arena often going with two two central midfielders, Dempsey's place in
the starting lineup, at least when Pulisic is around, is no longer assured.
But Dempsey remains a special player even at the age 34 and coming back from a heart condition that kept out of
action for the last four months of the 2016 MLS season. He set up the second goal against El Salvador in the quarterfinals and should have had a second assist but for the decision to disallow Gyasi
Zardes' goal for offside.
Against Costa Rica, Dempsey broke the scoreless tie by making the key run through the middle of the Tico defense to free Jozy Altidore for the first
goal in the 72nd minute and scoring on a free kick to make it, 2-0. The goal -- on which he beat Tico keeper Patrick Pemberton to the near post with a low shot -- gave him 57 career goals,
tying Landon Donovan for the U.S. career record.
All-Time U.S. Goal Scorers: G PLAYER (GP) 57 Landon Donovan (157) 57 Clint Dempsey (136) 38 Jozy Altidore (106) 34 Eric Wynalda (106) 30 Brian McBride (95)
2. Starters make case for roles for rest of year.
The U.S. performance against Costa Rica was easily the best of the Gold Cup. It
could have done better with its possession after early chances by Jordan Morris and Kellyn Acosta and allowed the Ticos forced keeper Tim Howard into two excellent saves.
But the USA played with confidence and cohesion that were lacking in the first Gold Cup games. A lot of the problems earlier in the tournament were due to Arena's experimentation has he looked
at 27 different starters.
Saturday's lineup was close to his first team of Gold Cup-eligible players and just about every starter helped his case, if it wasn't secure, for being in the
mix for Arena's 23 for the rest of World Cup and into a potential World Cup. Morris, whose stock was dropping because of his sophomore slump at Seattle, and Paul Arriola stick around even if
they might not start. The same goes for Matt Besler, who had not played for Arena until July, and Graham Zusi as a backup at right back.
Most Gold Cup Finals: GP TEAM (W-L) 10 USA (5-4) 8 *Mexico (7-1) 2 Brazil (0-2) 2 Panama (0-2)
*Plays in Sunday's semifinals.
3. Will starting two central midfielders trump starting Dempsey?
A nucleus of Gold
Cup players have starting spots in Arena's all-hands-on-deck XI: Howard in goal, Jorge Villafana at left back, Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in midfield and Altidore up
That group also likely includes Acosta, at least on the road or with a lead, as Arena used him as a second central midfielder when he came on for Dempsey for the last half hour
against T&T and started alongside Bradley at Mexico.
Having beaten Costa Rica on Saturday with Bradley and Acosta paired behind the U.S. attack, Arena and his staff will have to
decide whether that duo trumps starting Dempsey, assuming Pulisic is available, when the USA-Costa Rica match that counts is played on Sept. 1 in World Cup 2018 qualifying.