Clint Dempsey

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

The U.S. men’s national team knows how to protect its Philly turf.

A year after shutting out Paraguay in the Copa America Centenario at Lincoln Financial Field, the American soccer stars returned to the Eagles’ home stadium and shut off El Salvador, 2-0, in the Gold Cup quarterfinals Wednesday night.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scored for the U.S., who advance to face Costa Rica in the semifinals of the tournament for CONCACAF supremacy.

But despite the shutout — and the fact that they’re moving on — the win didn’t exactly have U.S. head coach Bruce Arena in a jovial mood.

“I thought we had a difficult time tonight,” Arena said. “Our timing wasn’t good. We didn’t deal with the physicality. The game had no rhythm with all of the fouls and players falling on the ground. And we weren’t good on top of it.”

Arena was particularly upset about some of the more physical aspects of the game, saying that he didn’t think “games should look like that” with all the fouls and time wasting.

One particular play stood above the rest — and it took the term “physical” to a whole new level as El Salvador’s Henry Romero literally bit U.S. striker Jozy Altidore in the shoulder while defending him in the box on a corner kick.

It appeared that Altidore also got his nipple grabbed by Romero — something he was furious about at the time but able to laugh about afterwards.

“My girl’s mad at me,” Altidore said. “She’s mad at me, she’s mad at Romero, because she’s like, ‘Only I can bite you, only I can grab your nipples.’” 

Incredibly, U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez was also bitten later in the second half by Darwin Ceren. Neither Romero or Ceren were carded but could possibly draw retroactive punishments from CONCACAF.

“When the guy bit me, I was a bit shocked,” Gonzalez said. “But you have to move on as quick as possible and look forward to the next play.”

“There should have been players sent off in my opinion,” Arena added. “These games aren’t easy. Clearly I would think the referee doesn’t want to send anyone off. But it was a night where on a couple of occasions perhaps it would have gotten the game headed in the right direction.”

Of course, Gonzalez did enjoy the best kind of revenge, getting his head on the end of a 41st-minute free kick from Michael Bradley to put the Americans on the board.

The U.S. then made it 2-0 right before halftime when Lichaj scored his first international goal following a marvelous spin and through ball from Clint Dempsey.

“I don’t know if it was a few years coming,” said Lichaj, who made his first appearance with the U.S. national team in Chester back in 2010. “But I was just excited to score.”

Longtime USMNT stars Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard were four of the six players called up by Arena for the knockout stage of the tournament after a young, untested roster helped the team win Group B — albeit unconvincingly — with wins over Martinique and Nicaragua and a draw with Panama.

And although they did deliver — on top of the Bradley and Dempsey assists, Howard came through with one big early save en route to the shutout — no one seemed particularly happy about the performance.

“There was not much rhythm in the game today — a lot of stoppages because of all the fouls,” Dempsey said. “You just gotta try to be smart, see your way through the game. It wasn’t pretty but we got the right result.”

The Americans know they’ll need to be better in the next round against Costa Rica, who defeated Panama, 1-0, in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with fans from all four countries — 31,635 in all — packing the Linc.

The U.S. national team is looking to win its sixth Gold Cup and avenge an uninspired fourth-place finish in the last Gold Cup, two years ago.

“The great thing is we have a really deep roster and we’re able to keep the team somewhat fresh for every single game,” Gonzalez said. “Tonight we got six new guys in and you can tell it was a bit sloppy in the beginning. We missed passes here and there. It could definitely be better but we got a game in together and we’re expecting it to be a lot sharper for the next game.”

Of note to the Union fans in the crowd, Chris Pontius entered the game in the 87th minute, marking the third straight Gold Cup game he’s played in after being called in as a late injury replacement.

In the three minutes that he was on the field, the Union winger did not appear to get bit.

Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes lead U.S. over Ecuador, into Copa America semis

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Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes lead U.S. over Ecuador, into Copa America semis

SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey scored for the third straight game and set up Gyasi Zardes for a tap-in goal, boosting the United States into the Copa America semifinals with a 2-1 win over Ecuador on Thursday night.

Playing before a boisterous and almost completely partisan home crowd in the soccer-mad Pacific Northwest, the U.S. won a knockout game against a nation outside its region for only the second time and will play Argentina or Venezuela on Tuesday in Houston.

Dempsey's 52nd international goal, five behind Landon Donovan's American record, put the U.S. ahead in the 22nd minute. Zardes guided Dempsey's cross into the net in the 65th for his sixth goal and a 2-0 lead.

Michael Arroyo scored for Ecuador in the 74th minute, making for a tense ending, and Enner Valencia missed a pair of great chances moment later on a pair of headers.

A chippy game was costly for the U.S. American midfielder Jermaine Jones was shown a red card during a 52nd-minute confrontation that also saw Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia sent off after a second yellow card for a harsh tackle on Alejandro Bedoya along the sideline .

U.S. players immediately rushed in to the scrum after Valencia's tackle, and Jones raised an arm at Arroyo. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan immediately showed a red card to Jones.

Jones will be suspended for the semifinal along with U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood, who both got their second yellow cards of the tournament.

Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros also appeared to be sent off late in the match.

The only previous knockout win for the U.S. over a non-CONCACAF team was against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal. The only other U.S. appearance in the Copa semifinals was in 1995, when it advanced to the final four by beating Mexico, then was eliminated by Brazil.

Dempsey appeared energized playing in the home stadium of his Seattle Sounders, and his header provided the U.S. a chance to relax after a tense opening. Wood was tremendous all night getting behind the defense and holding the ball up to provide chances on the attack and did so for both American goals.

On the first goal, Dempsey played the ball ahead to Wood, who dribbled and then passed to Jones. He crossed into the penalty area, where Dempsey had completed his run from midfield and beat Juan Paredes to the ball, directing it to the corner of the net past goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez from 8 yards.

The second goal was also a result of Wood playing the ball back. Brooks played a long ball to Wood, and his pass to Matt Besler was crossed to Gyasi Zardes in the area. His headed pass found Dempsey, who was able to slide a pass across the mouth of the goal for Zardes to poke in.

After that, the Americans tired and Ecuador turned up the pressure. Arroyo's goal came off Walter Ayovi's free kick from a flank. Enner Valencia had two great chances in the 76th and 77th minutes, and Brooks nearly had an own goal in the first minute of stoppage time, only to see the ball deflected wide by goalkeeper Guzan.

The U.S. made two changes to the lineup it used for the first three games of the tournament due to the red card picked up by right back DeAndre Yedlin in the final group game against Paraguay that caused the speedy youngster to miss a chance to play back in his hometown. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann inserted Besler into the lineup at left back and flopped Fabian Johnson to fill Yedlin's spot on the right side.

U.S. captain Michael Bradley wore a rainbow armband in honor of those killed in the Orlando, Florida, nighclub shooting last weekend.

U.S. Soccer books spot in Copa America quarters with 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Linc

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U.S. Soccer books spot in Copa America quarters with 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Linc

The midnight green of Lincoln Financial Field turned, red, white and blue for an evening.

And the U.S. men’s national team delivered, riding a first-half Clint Dempsey goal and a staunch defensive effort after going down a man to beat Paraguay, 1-0, in front of 51,041 fans at the Linc on Saturday, booking passage into the quarterfinals of Copa America Centenario.

Later in the night, the Americans learned they won a very competitive Group A when Costa Rica upset Colombia in a 3-2 thriller. That means the USMNT’s semifinal matchup will be held Thursday in Seattle vs. a to-be-determined opponent.

“I’m just thrilled for the team because they really did deserve that,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They deserved that win tonight. We held them basically down a man for pretty much the whole second half. We even created chances to score a second one. This is a huge statement to teams in South America or whoever watches it on TV. This team has fantastic spirit, they have character.”

The U.S. - who lost to Colombia and trounced Costa Rica in their first two games of the tournament that features the top national teams from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean - got on the board in the 27th minute when Gyasi Zardes made a nice move along the sideline before playing a low-driven cross across the box to Clint Dempsey, whose left-footed strike slid underneath goalie Justo Villar.

That lead held up throughout but not without plenty of nervous moments.

While clinging to their tenuous one-goal advantage, the U.S. were dealt a big blow when DeAndre Yedlin was called for two yellow cards in a one-minute span and was sent off in the 48th minute.

Michael Orozco - a former Union defender who played in the first-ever MLS game at Lincoln Financial Field back in 2010 - was called upon two minutes later to help the Americans preserve their lead.

“Although we got a red card, I had faith we were still gonna come out of that game winning,” Zardes said. “Our team is very disciplined and we adjusted. Our coaches had a gameplan and we just utilized it.”

It was Zardes who actually had the best chance at the game’s second goal. But the LA Galaxy striker, who’s been criticized throughout his USMNT tenure for a poor first touch, couldn’t put a shot on net after being left open and sprung free in front of the goal by Bobby Wood.

The game turned chippy for long stretches after that with Wood, especially, getting heated after getting tackled from behind a couple of times, only one of which resulted in a yellow card. Wood was then booked with a yellow of his own for arguing.

Klinsmann didn’t mind all the cards - nine in all and six shown to his team - although he did concede that Yedlin showed “inexperience” with his two yellows, which will keep him on the sideline for the quarterfinals.

“He just lost his head for a second,” Klinsmann said. “This is why you are young. You’ve got to give him that benefit of the doubt. You’ve got to give him that credit. He will learn from that mistake. Just cool down for a couple of minutes and find your path in the game again.”

Things could have ended up far worse for the U.S. after Yedlin’s ejection if not for a huge game from goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who got the starting nod for the tournament over longtime star Tim Howard.

Guzan came up with a clutch double-save in the 82nd minute as U.S. players on the bench jumped off their feet to celebrate. He also made a couple of big stops on striker Dario Lezcano in the first half to preserve the shutout.

“In any win, as a goalkeeper, you’re called upon to try to make a save or two,” Guzan said. “Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

Guzan also got a whole lot of his help from his backline, particularly 23-year-old center back John Brooks, who was named the man of the match.

In the 11th minute, Brooks came through with perhaps the game’s most memorable play when he made up a ton of ground to thwart a Paraguay 3-on-1 break and make a potentially goal-saving slide tackle.

Afterwards, Klinsmann hailed the play as “something special” and praised the growth of Brooks, who scored a big goal at the 2014 World Cup but struggled at times during last summer’s Gold Cup.

“You’re impressed by the learning curve a young player goes through and you’re just happy about that process,” Klinsmann said. “A year ago, a lot of people were very critical of him. And, as I said, he has to have those experiences. He needs to make mistakes to grow. There’s no growth without failure - for anybody.”

The Americans’ best first-half chance came in the 23rd minute when, after Paraguay was whistled for a handball right in front of the box, Dempsey pushed a free kick just high.

But the veteran striker made it up for four minutes later with his 51st goal in a USA jersey, electrifying the Philly crowd and keeping the Americans' hopes of winning a major international trophy alive.

Now, with world powers like Brazil and Argentina standing in their way in the knockout round, the question is how far the U.S. can go.

“The whole old story is the underdog story,” Klinsmann said. “I cannot hear that story anymore. I want to see them risk things. Let’s go for it. If you’re not going for it, sooner or later, they are going to break you down because they have class players. So, no, take the game to them. That’s the learning curve.

“The knockout stage is mental driven. It’s an absolute mental game. It’s when you step on the field and see certain jerseys, it’s kind of sniffing at each other and saying, ‘I’m ready for you.’ This is all about the moment, and this is what they need to believe in.”