Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie were the difference as the United States Men’s National Team beat Curacao 1-0 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to advance to the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals on Wednesday. McKennie’s header from a Pulisic cross was the only scoring in a game in which the underdogs controlled the entire second half.
Gregg Berhalter brought back a more expected group of starters for the match against Curacao. Zack Steffen returned in goal, with Nick Lima, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, and Tim Ream on defense. In the midfield, Berhalter chose Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, and Weston McKennie. Up top, it was the now-familiar trio of Tyler Boyd, Gyasi Zardes, and Paul Arriola.
Both teams started out fast with Curacao making a long run into the U.S. box, and then Pulisic doing the same on the other end, within the first two minutes of the match. Pulisic took another shot in the third minute that Curacao keeper Eloy Room barely got a hand on to keep the Yanks off the board.
The teams settled down after that with Curacao content to absorb pressure and look for the counter. In the ninth minute, the Yanks had a free kick on the right side of the area, but McKennie’s run was blocked by the referee. Curacao earned a corner kick in the 12th minute and took it short, but ultimately it amounted to nothing.
In the 20th minute, the game opened up a bit, and Curacao pushed forward, but couldn’t get a shot off, and the U.S. was able to clear the ball. Finally, in the 25th minute, Pulisic took a long pass up the left, made some Pulisic moves, and crossed the ball for McKennie to head home for his second international goal.
Boyd was just offside thanks to a slight touch by Zardes in the 27th minute, or he might have given the U.S. its second goal of the night.
Curacao continued to press with Gevaro Nepomuceno taking a long distance shot that fortunately went wide, as Steffen was rooted to the ground.
The USMNT gave up a pair of corner kicks in the 41st minute, but the Yanks got lucky when Steffen got caught in no man’s land, but Curacao headed the ball over the crossbar. Steffen almost gave it away in the 44th minute on a heavy touch, but did well to clear it before disaster happened. Curacao got another chance when Kenji Gorré took a beautiful pass into the area, but Zimmerman was able to clear it out.
The Yanks went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, despite Curacao out-shooting them 7-4, although the USMNT got two on frame to Curacao’s two. The U.S. held 55% of the possession in the opening period.
In the second half, the U.S. came out playing a higher line, hoping to pressure Curacao. The Yanks did press more, making a couple runs up the right side of the field. There was also one in the middle that just couldn’t stay on Pulisic’s foot, and was cleared. Arriola took a shot from outside the area in the 50th minute, but couldn’t curl it into the top right corner.
After that, Curacao was no longer content to sit back and started pressing higher as well. In the 54th minute, Nepomuceno took a long shot from outside the area, but it went wide left. Curacao continued to pressure the U.S., as the Yanks were on the back foot until Boyd was able to take the ball up the right. He waited for support and found Pulisic in the middle of the field. Pulisic’s shot went just wide of the goal.
The game slowed down considerably, and the U.S. appeared to be sleep walking through the match, with Curacao controlling the ball and the pace of the game. Nepomuceno took another shot in the 62nd minute, but it went right to a waiting Steffen.
Jordan Morris came on for Boyd in the 63rd minute to try and give the U.S. some needed energy. Despite Morris’ entry, the U.S. continued to look sloppy in the second half, with Curacao having the majority of the possession and chances.
In the 74th minute, Nepomuceno tried a little fakery on a free kick and put it into the area, where Steffen was able to get it, though the offside flag was up.
Pulisic took a pass from Zardes and pushed forward one-on-three into the area, but was knocked off the ball. He did take what looked like a shot off in the 78th minute, but it was ruled a cross. The U.S. finally got a break out as Pulisic passed the ball to Arriola, who crossed it to Zardes, but the striker wasn’t able to keep the shot down and it sailed well over the bar.
Curacao gifted the Yanks a corner on a bad back pass in the 81st minute. Pulisic delivered the cross and the ball bounced out for Morris, but he sent it high over the crossbar.
In the 84th minute, Steffen came up with his best save of the match on Leandro Bacuna’s rocket of a shot.
In the 89th minute, Pulisic put in a cross for Zardes, but once again it was headed over the crossbar. Bradley took a chance in the 90th minute, but couldn’t get it past the keeper.
Four minutes of stoppage time ensued, and while it wasn’t pretty, the Yanks saw out the game. Curacao dominated the second half with nearly 60% of the possession.
The U.S. advances to the semifinals and will play Jamaica on Wednesday at 9 p.m. at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.