USA-Costa Rica: Everything comes together in semis

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:
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:
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 front.

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.
9 comments about "USA-Costa Rica: Everything comes together in semis".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 23, 2017 at 7:52 a.m.

    What a difference between last November and now. Last night I especially liked the positioning while in possession.

  2. beautiful game replied, July 23, 2017 at 10:17 a.m.

    Was there really a big difference? It was better, for sure.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 23, 2017 at 11:47 a.m.

    I think, by any measure, there is a big difference. Before responding, I rewatched some highlights and listened to some comments by Grant Wahl about the Costa Rica match. I didn't have to refresh my memory of the Mexico match. I remember it too well.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 23, 2017 at 11:25 p.m.

    Yeah, the difference was a competent coach.

  5. Ben Myers, July 23, 2017 at 12:47 p.m.

    In the short term, Dempsey is part of USMNT through the 2018 World Cup. After that, he probably ages out. So, then, who is the catalyst, the difference-maker? Not Bradley, who is a very hard worker and who looks good when his passes work. Bradley also adds danger with his free kicks from the left side. The next difference-maker? Pulisic? Anyone else?

  6. Juan R replied, July 23, 2017 at 3:37 p.m.

    Uhhhh... Definitely Pulisic. And then some more young ones coming. The future is bright and with MLS academies getting better, MLS expansion, the only thing we would need is promotion and relegation somewhere in pro American soccer, and we'll be set!

  7. Charles Stamos, July 23, 2017 at 2:27 p.m.

    A nice rebound effort after a weak quarter final. The jury is still out and likely a competitive final will be the key to a successful tourney. Props to Arena for using the first round to get some needed experience for the newer players. Now start getting some consistency with a l/u that can be used going forward. My money is to have Pulusic in there with Nagbe as attacking players and split Dempsey/Altidore/Morris up front. Don't leave Wood out either. Maybe the four of them can push each other and the best two get the majority of play time!

  8. John Soares, July 23, 2017 at 8:35 p.m.

    Dempsey demonstrates he is still an important of this team. Who replaces him; Pulisic showed his potential in 3 or 4 games....others will come. Howard, still number one. AND YES a huge difference, in game control, few mistakes and a game with purpose.

  9. Scot Sutherland, July 24, 2017 at 1:22 p.m.

    Bruce being Bruce. Experimentation over. Time to win. Players instrumental to winning championships all over the field. Bruce builds winners and picks winners. Not at all surprised. Will be an interesting final against Jamaica.

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