USA flex muscles against Cuba, advance to Gold Cup semifinals

BALTIMORE 

United States men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann laid down the gauntlet in the buildup to this quarterfinal. He called his side the team to beat in this CONCACAF Gold Cup. His players responded by acting like favorites.

Clint Dempsey scored a hat trick as the U.S. overwhelmed Cuba en route to a 6-0 victory and a date with Jamaica in the semifinal on Wednesday (live, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 5:30 p.m. ET). The Reggae Boyz edged Haiti 1-0 in Saturday’s other semifinal.

”Habits carry over: scoring goals, getting a clean sheet, people getting assists,” Dempsey said after the win. ”That confidence, definitely it grows in the team. And as the tournament goes on, people are getting stronger as a group.”

This group left nothing to chance and essentially settled the match by halftime. Dempsey nodded home simply from Timothy Chandler’s cross to start the route after just four minutes. Gyasi Zardes turned home Fabian Johnson’s inviting delivery for the second inside the opening quarter of an hour. Aron Johannsson capped his fine run onto a Michael Bradley chip with a clever clip over beleaguered Cuba goalkeeper Diosvelis Guerra after 32 minutes. Omar Gonzalez poked home Johannsson’s cushioned header just before the interval to confirm the dominance.

Dempsey grabbed his second with a cheeky penalty as the Americans continued to exert their dominance after the interval. Bradley drove forward in the final quarter of an hour and then rolled a passover for Dempsey to secure his hat trick and round off this resounding victory in style.

Klinsmann will take heart from the manner and the ruthlessness of this performance after muddling through the group stage. Cuba posed little threat on the day as the effects of playing on Wednesday took their toll, but the Americans tore them apart with good tempo in possession and necessary sharpness in front of goal. Those traits must carry over as this side prepares to face a sterner examination in the semifinal.

There were few doubts about the outcome even from the opening stages as the Americans started the game with intent and took control inside the first five minutes. Cuba found itself struggling to adjust as a cross from the left skittered through the penalty area. Zardes collected on the right and pulled back for Chandler to curl a cross toward the goal area. Dempsey ghosted free and snapped home his header to give his side the perfect start.

Klinsmann opted to play Zardes on the right and Alejandro Bedoya on the left to provide ample room for Johnson and Chandler to join the attack. They mined that space profitably with Chandler instrumental on the first goal and Johnson vital on the second.

Johannsson set the stage with a clever piece of movement to win a free kick in the center of the field. Bradley played the ball quickly out to Johnson on the left to catch the Cubans out as they attempted to set their line. Johnson curled an inviting cross toward the back post for Zardes to sidefoot home from close range.

The early outburst underscored the Americans’ desire to increase the tempo and peg Cuba back from the outset. Their work in possession essentially forced Cuba to chase and harry fruitlessly in a bid to close the game down. By exploiting the gaps and tempting the Cuban line forward, the U.S. eventually found its way toward a third.

Bradley found himself in space in midfield and plunked a wonderful ball over the top. Johannsson, selected to partner Dempsey in this game after Jozy Altidore was dropped from the squad earlier this week, timed his run to perfection and used the deadened, temporary surface to corral it. Once he collected, Johansson took advantage of Guerra’s ill-fated foray and lobbed him from the edge of the penalty area.

Gonzalez, picked ahead of Tim Ream to replace the suspended John Brooks in defense, joined the fray with his first international goal shortly before halftime. Bradley delivered a deep corner to the back post. Johannsson did most of the hard work when he headed back toward the penalty spot, but Gonzalez carried out his part well with a poked finish to complete a rampant first half.

Klinsmann made two changes at halftime as he attempted to manage the dominance. Joe Corona made his tournament debut in place of Kyle Beckerman in midfield, while Brad Evans replaced Chandler (knee) as a precautionary measure.

No amount of alteration by either side could divert the course of this affair. The tempo naturally dropped a bit on this steamy afternoon inside M&T Bank Stadium, but the Americans never loosened their grip on the game with Dempsey once again serving as the prime instigator.

Dempsey completed his hat trick to round off this performance and increased his Gold Cup-best haul to six goals in the process. He won a penalty and then subsequent converted it with a tidy clip down the middle to add the fifth. Bradley drove forward and then laid off for Dempsey to sweep home his third inside the final quarter of an hour.

”He’s always been a striker mentality,” Bradley said of Dempsey after the match. ”He’s a guy who is hungry and determined to make big plays, hungry and determined to score goals. And that’s always been him. It doesn’t really matter whether he’s lined up as an out-and-out striker, as a second striker, a little bit underneath somebody else, even at times under my dad when he and Landon played tilted wide.”

The final score reflected the gulf between the teams on the day and reinforced the Americans’ status as tournament favorites. There are two more challenging hurdles left to vault, but this side is hitting stride at exactly the right time to overcome them and secure the Gold Cup once more.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.