The United States eeked out another nervy and narrow victory in CONCACAF Gold Cup play, topping Haiti, 1-0, behind a Clint Dempsey goal in the 47th minute in front of 46,720 at Gillette Stadium Friday night.
The win guarantees the top spot in Group A for the Americans, who stand on six points ahead of both Panama and Honduras.
The U.S. were outplayed for large parts of the first half, having to cope with wholesale changes to the side that narrowly carved out a 2-1 win over Honduras three days earlier.
An unfamiliar back four comprised of - from left to right - Greg Garza, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez and Brad Evans looked like it’s never played together before. It hadn't, and Jurgen Klinsmann's side opened itself up to Haiti, squandering possession in the midfield, fortunate not to be behind in several instances.
Haiti's best chance came 10 minutes in, when Mix Diskerud was dispossessed by James Marcelin, with the New York City FC midfielder taking the Haitian midfielder down from behind. The ensuing free kick 25 yards from goal from Mechack Jerome skimmed off the crossbar, a close call for 'keeper Brad Guzan and a golden chance as it was just the beginning of the underdogs' positive start.
The game suddenly became stretched, as Michael Bradley strode through the middle of the pitch in the 34th minute, hoping to find a breakthrough for the U.S. His run eventually found Jozy Altidore down the left flank, whose shot ricocheted off a mob of defenders and fell to the foot of Aron Johansson, who finished past Johnny Placide, but was whistled back for a dubious offside decision.
The teams entered the halftime break with a noticeable disparity, as the U.S. struggled to manage a disorganized midfield and attack, while Haiti came out of the gates flying: running faster, tackling harder, passing better, unlucky not to have found a goal in the process.
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Two minutes into the second half, Gyasi Zardes - a halftime substitute for Altidore - suddenly got free in the box, picked out Dempsey, whose first-time finish gave the U.S. a relieved advantage.
Following the goal, Guerrier missed another opportunity just past the hour mark, climbing high above Evans to meet a delivery from open play, but he sent a header just wide of the frame to the relief of Guzan. Haiti continued to play to its strengths, using the counter attack to their advantage, but ultimately lacked the end product.
The U.S. travel to Kansas City, Kan. next for the third and final group stage match. Klinsmann's outfit will face 2013 Gold Cup runner-up Panama at Sporting Park at 7:30 p.m. CT.
United States Starting XI (subs):
Brad Guzan; Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Greg Garza (Fabian Johnson, 67'); Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud; Clint Dempsey; Aron Johannsson (Kyle Beckerman, 82'), Jozy Altidore (Gyasi Zardes, 46').
Haiti Starting XI (subs):
Johnny Placide; Mechack Jerome, Kim Jaggy, Frantz Bertin, Reginal Goreux (Sony Norde, 82'), Kevin Lafrance (Sebastian Thuriere, 70'); Wilde-Donald Guerrier, James Marcelin, Jean-Marc Alexandre, Jean Eudes Maurice (Jeff Louis, 67'); Duckens Nazon.