Dempsey leads U.S. to vic­tory

For­ward ties scor­ing record,Amer­i­cans make Gold Cup ti­tle game

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SOCCER/NFL - STEPHEN HAWKINS

AR­LING­TON, Texas — Clint Dempsey grew up play­ing youth soc­cer in the Dal­las area, nearly 200 miles 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 34-year-old for­ward from Nacog­doches.

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 that 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 quar­ter­fi­nal 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 ti­tle and first since 2013, the Amer­i­cans play Ja­maica in the fi­nal on Wed­nes­day at 8:30 p.m. Cen­tral in Santa Clara, Calif.

Ke­mar Lawrence of Ja­maica scored from a free kick with a left-footed shot to beat Mex­ico Sun­day night.

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 cen­ter 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. He was play­ing for the first time in AT&T Sta­dium, the $1.2 bil­lion home sta­dium of the NFL’s Dal­las Cow­boys.

“Look, Clint’s abil­ity to im­pact a game with goals, as­sists at the high­est level is noth­ing new,” Amer­i­can cap­tain Michael Bradley said. “Bruce felt like for tonight his abil­ity to come off the bench and come into a game, that maybe had started to open up a lit­tle bit, was go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence and it sure did.”

Dempsey said he bought 27 tick­ets for the game and saw many more peo­ple from his home­town.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions, Clint. Feel free to stop now. We’ll share it to­gether,” Dono­van said while com­men­tat­ing dur­ing the Fox tele­cast.

Costa Rica routed the U.S. 4-0 at home in a World Cup qual­i­fier in Novem­ber, the fi­nal game be­fore Klins­mann was fired and Arena was brought back. And up ahead is an­other matchup, a qual­i­fier on Sept. 1 at Har­ri­son, New Jersey.

Jor­dan Mor­ris, who re­placed Dempsey, was among five new starters and hit a post just 11 sec­onds in. Arena didn’t want Dempsey play­ing three full matches in an eight­day span.

Dempsey hopes to play in a fourth World Cup next year.

“He un­der­stands where he is in his ca­reer,” Arena said. “There’s go­ing to be games he’ll start, games where he’ll play the role he played tonight. Things can change in other di­rec­tions, but that’s the plan right now.”

AP/JEF­FREY MCWHORTER

United States’ Clint Dempsey (28) cel­e­brates with team­mates af­ter scor­ing a goal dur­ing a CON­CA­CAF Gold Cup semi­fi­nal soc­cer match against Costa Rica in Ar­ling­ton, Texas. The U.S. won 2-0 to make the tour­na­ment fi­nals.

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