United States hang on to defeat Haiti, advance to Gold Cup quarterfinals
Fundamental achievements trump performances in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. There were few style points for the U.S. national team to scoop up after a halting performance against Haiti on Friday, but the Americans achieved their primary objective nevertheless.
Clint Dempsey confirmed the Americans’ place atop Group A and secured a place in the last eight with his winner two minutes into the second half. Dempsey finished off the move instigated by Greg Garza and propelled by second-half substitute Gyasi Zardes to claim a 1-0 victory.
Haiti made the United States work for every inch during this dogged affair. U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan produced an important block on Duckens Nazon to protect the lead, while the Americans held out in the late stages to ensure this gritty night ended with the anticipated victory.
"Haiti is a team that can cause trouble," USA's Michael Bradley admitted after the 1-0 win on Friday night. "In the first half they were lively and dangerous, but we handled it in a professional way, and we knew that if we were smart and patient, that we would get the three points and move on.”
It did not come easily for an American side that struggled for much of the first half and searched for top gear in the second. There is a need for further improvement ahead of the knockout round, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will at least take solace from a second straight win and the opportunity to ponder alterations ahead of the final Group A match against Panama on Monday (live, 9:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go).
The early running favored a Haitian side with a well-drilled shape and a willingness to counter quickly. Those measures aren’t particularly novel, but they were effective against an American side unable to find its footing in possession or move the ball quickly enough to break the Haitians down.
End product prevented Haiti from punishing the U.S. for that glacially slow start. Mechack Jerome scraped the top of the bar from a free kick after 10 minutes. Wilde-Donald Guerrier sliced his effort wide of the far post to end a rampaging break. Each of those moments — plus the several forays that yielded lesser opportunities — emboldened the Haitians as they attempted to build upon their surprising 1-1 draw with Panama to open their Group A slate.
Progress proved considerably more difficult for the Americans as they strained to figure out a way to break down Haiti’s 4-2-3-1 shape. The dearth of sharp movement off the ball and the lack of cadence led to precious little through the lines. Haiti closed the ball down well and restricted the ability of Jozy Altidore, Dempsey and Aron Johannsson to collect the ball or combine behind the back four.
Dempsey flickered to life by ending a decent move with a shot off Frantz Bertin’s head, but Johannsson found himself denied by the flag in the best American move of the half. There were neat touches and tidy work in the buildup to create room for Altidore to cut inside in the penalty area. Altidore hesitated to shoot at the first attempt and watched a defender slide over to block his belated effort. Johannsson collected the deflection and slotted home the expected opener, but the assistant referee ruled out the effort for offside.
Replays contradicted the assistant referee’s judgment to leave the U.S. particularly frustrated heading into halftime. Klinsmann responded to the first half by throwing Zardes into the fray for Altidore, thrusting Dempsey up front and urging his players to use the wide areas more frequently.
All of those elements rose to the fore two minutes after play resumed to send the Americans in front. Greg Garza played a delicately clipped ball into the area from the left for Zardes to race through the line. Zardes controlled on his chest, reached the end line and pulled back into a promising area. Dempsey swept home from 10 yards to round off the move.
The opening goal bolstered the Americans as they started to exert more influence over the game. The injection of width from Zardes on the left — plus Graham Zusi’s renewed desire to pull toward the touchline on the right — opened operating room for Michael Bradley in the middle and pried open the previously rigid Haitian shape.
Haiti compensated for the revamped dynamic by conceding some compactness in exchange for more opportunities on the break. Nazon, in the midst of a fine performance leading the line, benefited from a good ball over the top to create a one-versus-one opportunity. Guzan worked his angles expertly to block the initial attempt just before the hour and shepherd Nazon too wide to do much of anything with the rebound.
As the second half progressed, the game stretched vertically to allow both teams to take turns on the break. Haiti continued its commitment to finding an equalizer and posed the odd threat, while the Americans searched for that one sequence necessary to sort out the match.
Neither team reached their goal, though it wasn’t through want of trying. Haiti simply found its lack of precision in the final third too difficult to overcome as the Americans navigated through the late stages and secure their desired place in the last eight.