The United States men’s national team took a while to get going, and had trouble with a compact, deep-sitting Costa Rica side. But thanks to Jozy Altidore’s winner in the 72nd-minute and Clint Dempsey’s free-kick 10 minutes later, the USMNT squeaked past their Central American opponents 2-0 in the Gold Cup semifinals on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
With a CONCACAF Gold Cup final berth on the line, the U.S. brought their A- team to a match against another one of the tournament’s biggest favorites. In a bid to avenge a disappointing loss to Jamaica in the 2015 semis, the hosts just managed to see off the feisty Costa Ricans.
The Americans played a 4-4-2 formation from the start, making six changes from their quarterfinal win over El Salvador. Following struggles at the back in previous matches, Bruce Arena started veterans Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler in central defense. Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta partnered in midfield, Paul Arriola and Darlington Nagbe were on the wings, and Jordan Morris started with Altidore up top.
Focusing on Morris’s ability to run in behind, Arriola’s speed and work rate taking defenders on, and Nagbe’s tendency to cut centrally and create from there, the US were often the better team for the first 60 minutes or so. They were unable to create all that much on goal, though, and were held at zero. Los Ticos found opportunities on the counter and off of set pieces, including one breakaway that had to be snuffed out by Tim Howard.
It remained scoreless after an hour, and while the US attackers were playing well and created a reasonable amount of opportunities, the game seemed to be begging for an appearance from Dempsey, who notably was left on the bench in favor of the younger and faster Morris. The veteran Sounders forward entered the match one goal shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time US men’s soccer record of 58.
Arena subbed Dempsey on for Arriola just after the 60th-minute mark, pushing Morris wide right. Not long after, Dempsey dribbled through a couple of Costa Rican defenders before slipping a perfectly-weighted ball through to a running Altidore, who managed to finish with his left foot past the onrushing goalkeeper.
In the 82nd-minute, the US earned a promising free-kick just outside the box, and, as fate would have it, Dempsey whipped it under the wall and past Patrick Pemberton, securing a win for the Americans and tying Donovan’s record just three hours from the Texas town where he grew up.
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) July 23, 2017
Things were smooth from there as the match finished 2-0 in favor of the US, eliminating the Costa Ricans and sending the hosts to the Gold Cup final, where they’ll face the winner of Sunday’s Mexico-Jamaica semifinal.