Dempsey off the bench to help U.S. to cham­pi­onship fi­nal in Gold Cup

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEPHEN HAWKINS

Clint Dempsey grew up play­ing youth soc­cer in the Dal­las area, nearly 320 kilo­me­tres from his Texas home­town.

Back in his home state and com­ing off the bench, Dempsey matched the Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tional scor­ing record and sparked the U.S. to a spot in the CONCACAF Gold Cup ti­tle game.

Dempsey fed Jozy Alti­dore for the go-ahead goal not long af­ter en­ter­ing, then scored on a free kick to match Lan­don Dono­van with his 57th in­ter­na­tional goal Satur­day night in a 2-0 semi­fi­nal win over Costa Rica.

“This has to be the best in Texas for me, since I tied the record and it was an im­por­tant game,” the 34year-old for­ward from Nacog­doches said.

Dempsey en­tered in the 66th minute and made a per­fectly-timed through pass six min­utes later that al­lowed Alti­dore to break in alone and beat goal­keeper Patrick Pem­ber­ton with a left-footed shot from 10 yards.

Dempsey dou­bled the lead in the 82nd minute with a 27-yard shot that went around a four-man de­fen­sive wall and got past Pem­ber­ton on two bounces.

“I saw the keeper cheat­ing a lit­tle bit, and it went in,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey has 136 in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances, trail­ing only Cobi Jones (164) and Dono­van (157) among Amer­i­can men. The as­sist was his 20th for the na­tional team.

“Com­ing back from two heart pro­ce­dures, be­ing able to still play at this level,” Dempsey said in his Texas twang, “liv­ing a dream. So I’m happy.”

Af­ter start­ing in Wed­nes­day’s quar­ter-fi­nal win over El Sal­vador, Dempsey moved to a re­serve role against the Ti­cos. While the U.S. in­serted five new starters in a ros­ter ro­ta­tion, Costa Rica went with the same 11 who opened in Wed­nes­day’s win against Panama.

“I know it’s some­thing that was im­por­tant to Clint, and to score that goal in a big game makes it even more spe­cial for him,” coach Bruce Arena said.

Arena said the plan all along was to have Dempsey en­ter the semi­fi­nal be­tween the 60th and 70th min­utes, to pro­vide a spark when legs got heavy.

“He thought it was go­ing to be a tight game, and they’ll bring me on late and it’ll open up,” Dempsey said. “He was right with what he said. It’s al­ways go­ing to be a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to try and go 90 three days af­ter go­ing 90 against El Sal­vador, so I was happy with the de­ci­sion.”

Try­ing for their sixth Gold Cup and first since 2013, the U.S. plays Mex­ico or Ja­maica in the fi­nal on Wed­nes­day at Santa Clara, CA.

The U.S. im­proved to 8-0-5 since Arena re­placed Jur­gen Klins­mann in Novem­ber and re­turned for a sec­ond stint as na­tional team coach. Arena can be­come the first coach to win three Gold Cup ti­tles, fol­low­ing cham­pi­onships in 2002 and 2005.

Tim Howard got his sec­ond straight shutout and 42nd over­all for the U.S., mak­ing key saves on Marco Urena in the 37th and 71st min­utes.

Af­ter the sec­ond save, Dempsey took a pass from Dar­ling­ton Nagbe in the cen­tre cir­cle, made a cut, and took three touches as he sprinted to­ward goal. Alti­dore one-timed a shot for his first na­tional team goal since Septem­ber and ripped off his No. 27 jersey in a wild cel­e­bra­tion, earn­ing a yel­low card.

Dempsey’s goal sealed the win, putting the U.S. back in the fi­nal af­ter a shock­ing semi­fi­nal loss to Ja­maica two years ago.

LM OTERO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Clint Dempsey cel­e­brates af­ter com­ing off the bench late to score against Costa Rica dur­ing a CONCACAF Gold Cup semi­fi­nal soc­cer match in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, on Satur­day. The U.S. won, 2-0, to move on to the fi­nal Wed­nes­day night against Ja­maica, who shocked Mex­ico, 1-0, on Sun­day night.

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