LOS ANGELES, July 23, (AFP): Clint Dempsey’s milestone goal sealed the United States’ 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Saturday in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Dallas, Texas.
In Wednesday’s final, the United States will face either defending champions Mexico or Jamaica — who face off on Sunday in Pasadena, California.
Tenacious Costa Rica stymied the five-time champion United States until Jozy Altidore broke through in the 72nd minute, capitalizing on good work from Dempsey.
Dempsey came on for Paul Arriola in the 66th minute and soon made his presence felt, working his way through the defense and threading a pass to Altidore, who beat Costa Rican keeper Patrick Pemberton with a left-footed shot.
Ten minutes later, 34-year-old Dempsey curled a perfectly struck free kick under the wall and past Pemberton inside the near post for his 57th international goal, tying Landon Donovan’s mark for most in the history of the US men’s team.
Dempsey matched the record in his 136th appearance for the senior team — 17 games faster than it took Donovan to score his 57 international goals.
His first goal for the United States came in 2005 when the former Fulham player scored in a friendly defeat to England. He has scored in three World Cups and five Gold Cups.
After overcoming a battling display from El Salvador in the quarter-finals, the US team produced their best game of the tournament against Costa Rica.
Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard, Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe were all brought in for the knockout stage by coach Bruce Arena, who had experimented with an untried squad in the group stage.
Howard made a key save on Marco Urena’s attempt against the run of play in the 37th minute, and produced another big save on Urena in the 71st to keep the contest scoreless.
The tension was rising, however, with the match set to go straight to a penalty shoot-out without extra time if the sides were drawn after 90 minutes.
But Dempsey — who returned to international duty in March after a heart problem saw him sidelined for six months — provided the needed spark off the bench.
“We were pretty close to getting it right in the first half,” said US coach Bruce Arena. “I think as the game wore on and our opponent got tired, the goals came.”
The US avenged their humbling 4-0 loss to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier in November — the final match before Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked as coach.
With Arena back at the helm, the USA are unbeaten in 12 matches and now have a shot at a sixth Gold Cup title and their first since 2013.
They failed to make the final in 2015, when Mexico won their seventh crown.
Meanwhile, Henry Romero received a six-game ban and Darwin Ceren for three on Saturday for “anti-sporting” behavior in a CONCACAF Gold Cup match in which they bit US players.
Los Cuscatlecos defender Romero bit Jozy Altidore on the back in El Salvador’s 2-0 Gold Cup quarter-final loss to the United States and also grabbed the US forward’s nipple and twisted it.
Midfielder Ceren, who plays for Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, bit Omar Gonzalez during the contest.
CONCACAF, which did not specify the biting incidents in their announcement, said the suspensions would affect only “official matches.
El Salvador have already been eliminated from 2018 World Cup qualifying.