The United States Men’s National Team finally put together a full 90-minute performance and Clint Dempsey came off the bench in his home state to spark the offense, as the U.S. beat Costa Rica 2-0 to advance to the Gold Cup final on Wednesday. Dempsey set up Jozy Altidore’s opening goal and tied Landon Donovan’s career record by knocking in a scrumptious free kick in front of 45,516 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
Bruce Arena ran out a 4-4-2 consisting of goalkeeper Tim Howard behind the back line of (L-R) Jorge Villafana, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Graham Zusi. Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola manned the midfield flanks outside of defensive mids Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley. The two-man strike force featured Jordan Morris and Jozy Altidore.
Costa Rica countered with a 5-4-1, with goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton behind a back five of (L-R) Francisco Calvo, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Kendall Waston, Johnny Acosta, and Jose Salvatierra. The midfield four (L-R) were Bryan Ruiz, Yeltsin Tejeda, David Guzman, and David Ramirez, behind striker Maro Urena.
It was close to a dream start for the U.S. as right off the kickoff Morris crushed one off the near post but stayed out and didn’t quite fall right for Arriola to put back.
Costa Rica’s first chance came three minutes in when David Guzman took a ball above the box and fired on the volley, but struck it wide of Howard’s goal.
The teams settled in a bit over the next 10 minutes or so before the U.S. built up some beautiful play down the right flank, culminating in Altidore getting into the box and opting to cross for Acosta rather than shooting. It was an unselfish move and nearly opened the scoring but the ball to Acosta was a bit behind and tough to handle and the FC Dallas midfielder couldn’t steer his shot on frame.
That was most of the action of the first half, as the teams spent most of the opening period between the penalty boxes and restarting after ticky-tack foul calls as the referee kept a tight control over the game. The next good opportunity fell Costa Rica’s way in the 37th minute, when Urena got into the box and fired but Howard made a huge kick save to keep the game scoreless.
Besler got a late overhead kick attempt off on the scramble after a U.S. set piece in the 44th minute but it was nowhere near the net.
The halftime whistle blew on a defense-heavy first half which was, in truth, rather dull at times — so much so that fans at AT&T Stadium started doing the wave. Yes, in the first half of a Gold Cup semifinal match. In that first half, the U.S. held 61.4% of the possession — the most any team has had in the opening period in the 2017 Gold Cup, per Opta stats. But still, something was missing.
The five-man Costa Rica back line may have had a wee bit to do with that, though.
The first good opportunity of the second half nearly gifted the USMNT the lead. Morris got in behind up the right and Pemberton came off his line and was caught outside the box as the ball found Zusi. The Sporting Kansas City man held the ball for an agonizing period of time before crossing to the back post where the ball went through Nagbe’s legs to waste a golden opportunity at the 52-minute mark.
Following that, Costa Rica had a good spell of possession and started winning dangerous free kicks. On the first, Howard had to come off his line quickly to punch away a well-hit entry ball, before being fouled by Waston on the second ball in. On the second set piece, Giancarlo Gonzalez hit a free header over the bar.
In the 58th minute, Arriola fizzed a wicked ball through the six-yard box that took a touch off a defender and nearly went in for an own-goal. The 63rd minute saw Zusi work his way into space and hit a disappointing ball well off target. Three minutes later, Altidore cut into the middle and blasted a right-footed shot that Pemberton punched away. Dempsey was brought on for Arriola at that point and changed the game completely.
Deuce nearly scored on his first touch but Pemberton was able to punch the ball away just before Dempsey could get a head on a set piece cross. Then, in the 70th minute, Dempsey set up Acosta for a drive but he hit his shot too close to the Ticos’ keeper, who made a vital save.
A minute later, Costa Rica nearly broke the deadlock when Urena got into the box and hit a left-footer that Howard was able to get down and block with his arm.
That crucial save by Howard helped the U.S. break through first. In the 72nd minute, Dempsey took a pass in traffic, made a terrific spin to free himself, then weaved through a couple of Costa Rica defenders before laying off to Altidore on the left. Jozy saw Pemberton come off his line and found a hole through which to score the opener.
It was Dempsey’s 20th career assist, making him the fourth player to reach that mark for the United States.
Gonzalez nearly scored his third goal in three games when he got a touch on a Bradley free kick in the 74th but he didn’t get enough of it and it skipped harmlessly out for a goal kick. The next real chance of the game came to Dempsey in the 82nd minute.
With a foul given just outside the box on the right side, the Sounders star stepped up and curled a low drive around the wall, just inside the near post, beating Pemberton and tying him with Donovan on 57 career goals for the U.S.
From that point, the USMNT was content to usher out the remaining time and bleed the clock, fouling whenever it appeared Costa Rica might be building a promising attack or starting to break the other way. The U.S. survived a few free kicks and won the game, 2-0.
Arena’s side will meet the winner of Jamaica vs. Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Wednesday night in Santa Clara, CA.