Clint Dempsey’s eligibility for the CONCACAF Gold Cup was a concern for the United States Men’s National Team.
His suspension came after he ripped up the notebook of referee Daniel Radford in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup between Cascadia rivals the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers. Dempsey received a red card for his actions. The consequences were issued by the U.S. Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel as well as Major League Soccer. He would no longer be eligible to play in the U.S. Open Cup for two years or possibly more, depending on how long it takes to sit out six matches.
The National Team gave a sigh of relief when MLS announced a separate three-game suspension that would conclude before the start of the Gold Cup, making Dempsey eligible for that tournament. To be eligible, he sat out games against San Jose on June 20, Philadelphia on June 24, and Portland on June 28.
The road to Russia
The U.S. Soccer Federation was coming up on one of their best accomplishments when the women took home the FIFA World Cup in Canada the previous weekend. The men look to continue the momentum in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. That cup has eight spots up for grabs with Russia, Germany (2014 FIFA World Cup winner), Australia (2015 AFC Asian Cup winner), and Chile (2015 Copa America winner) securing their places by winning their respective confederation cups. Four spots remain with the winners of the CONCACAF (2015 Gold Cup), OFC (2016 OFC Nations Cup), UEFA (UEFA Euro 2016), and CAF (2017 Africa Cup of Nations) advancing to the cup in Russia.
Three-time defending champions Brazil failed to qualify when they were upset at the Copa America Quarterfinals by Paraguay in penalties. Brazil has been in every confederations cup since its inception in 1997, so this upset was significant. It would mark the first time the FIFA Confederations Cup would be contested with three teams from the same confederation would participate in it. Russia, Germany and a third team from UEFA Euro 2016 will qualify.
The United States won the 2013 Gold Cup which guarantees them a play-off if they fail to win in 2015. There are 12 teams vying for the title and a right to play the U.S. in the play-offs. The teams are divided into three groups: Group A: The U.S., Panama, Honduras, and Haiti; Group B: Jamaica, Costa Rica, Canada, and El Salvador; and Group C: Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, and Cuba.
U.S. National Team makes move for Gold Cup
U.S. Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann simplified Dempsey’s role by stating that he is to focus on scoring. He predicted that Dempsey would return to form with the goal of winning the Golden Boot in the Gold Cup, the award given to the top scorer. Michael Bradley would be the captain of the National Team in place of Dempsey.
The United States faced off against Honduras at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, home of FC Dallas, on July 7. Klinsmann could not have been more right about Dempsey. In the twenty-fifth minute, Honduras failed to clear a Bradley short corner kick. Jozy Altidore’s shot was saved with the rebound finding the head of Dempsey, getting past the Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escober to put them up 1-0. In the sixty-fourth minute Bradley delivered a perfect ball to the head of Dempsey off a set piece, making it 2-0. Honduras answered back in the sixty-eighth minute when midfielder Carlos Discua got in on goal from a Wilmer Crisanto pass to cut the lead in half. Clint Dempsey’s brace held up to give the United States three points heading into their second group game against Haiti. The Americans were fortunate to win the game as Honduras won possession, 51% to 49%, took more shots, 16-6, and more corners, 9-5. The United States did have more shots on target, 5-3, but knew they would have to improve.
On July 10, the U.S. faced off against Haiti in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. In the thirty-fifth minute, Altidore’s pass was deflected to Aron Johannsson, who finished to make it 1-0, but the assistant referee raised his flag to indicate offsides. The replays clearly showed that Johannsson was onsides, which should have allowed the goal to stand.
Klinsmann subbed Altidore out and put in LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes for an offensive spark that was missing in the first half. The move paid off minutes after halftime when left back Greg Garza found Zardes with a chipped ball on the backline. Zardes took a few dribbles and played it off to Dempsey who slotted it far post, making it 1-0.
Haiti continued to push and had chances to tie, but it was not meant to be. The Dempsey goal assisted by substitute Zardes would be the defining score in the 1-0 win. The United States dominated possession 64% to 36%, but Haiti had more total shots, 21-6, as well as shots on goal, 4-2. Haiti forced U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan into four saves while their goalkeeper, Johny Placide, was only called on once for a save.
The U.S. hopes to find a rhythm and the right combination in their final group stage game against Panama at Sporting Park in Kansas City on Monday, July 13.
The final group stage games run until July 15. The quarterfinals kick off on July 18-19. The semi-finals will be on July 22. The third-place game will be on July 25. The finals will be on July 26.