Clint Dempsey's hat trick powers U.S. to Gold Cup semifinal after Cuba rout
BALTIMORE -- Three quick thoughts after Clint Dempsey's first international hat trick helped the U.S. rout shorthanded Cuba 6-0 in Saturday's Gold Cup quarterfinal, booking the Americans' spot in Wednesday's semifinal in Atlanta.
1. Dempsey does it again
In the days leading up the match, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players said that putting the Cubans under pressure early and getting the opening goal would be the key to avoiding the sort of drawn-out dogfight the Americans found themselves in during each of their first three matches in the tournament.
"There's no secret that in these games if you can get the first goal quickly," U.S. captain Michael Bradley reiterated on Friday, "it goes a long way in terms of breaking the game open."
That was also the gameplan in the group stage, of course. But this time the U.S. managed to get the start they were looking for when Clint Dempsey -- who else? -- got on the end of a seeing-eye cross from much-maligned right back Timmy Chandler to nod the hosts in front just four minutes in.
The strike was Dempsey's fourth of the Gold Cup (he'd add his fifth and sixth goals of the tournament in the second half). It put him all alone atop the competition's scoring chart, and it also settled the U.S. down and set the stage for what was to follow.
Gyasi Zardes knocked in the Yanks' second just 10 minutes later on a play that was a mirror image of the first, with left back Fabian Johnson providing the assist from the opposite side. And Aron Johannsson put the outcome beyond doubt in the 32nd minute, with a gorgeous chip from outside the visitors' 18-yard box.
2. The offensive explosion could help later on
Depleted Cuba didn't offer much defensive resistance after the spirit-crushing start, but the avalanche of goals the U.S. was able to produce after the opener still has to be considered a positive heading into the semis.
The Americans found the net just four times in their first three games, with three of those tallies being Demspey's. So to be able to score more than their entire tournament output in one match isn't nothing to ignore. Johannsson played perhaps his best game in a U.S. shirt; his one-touch strike off a looping Bradley pass was a thing of beauty, and it should boost his confidence significantly. Same goes for fellow attacker Zardes, whose goal was just his second for the national team.
And what can be said about Dempsey, who is getting better and better as the Gold Cup goes on? It's important not to get too carried away with the result against what was, let's face it, a vastly inferior foe (don't forget that Mexico also beat Cuba 6-0 in its opening match of the Gold Cup) but you can be sure that as a former striker, Klinsmann was thrilled with the way his team -- and in particular, his forwards -- kept pushing for more right until the final whistle blew.
3. Will Omar Gonzalez keep his spot?
The LA Galaxy center back only got the nod next to Ventura Alvarado because regular starter John Brooks was serving a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation after picking up his second caution of the group stage against Panama. But Gonzalez was the better of Klinsmann's two central defenders against Cuba. He was flawless positionally even if he was hardly tested, and he scored his first career U.S. goal on the stroke of halftime.
Meanwhile, Alvarado was guilty of gifting Cuba its best chance of the match in the first half, losing his mark and allowing Maikel Reyes a free header that a better striker might have directed on Brad Guzan's net.
It's not the first mistake Alvarado has made this month. Klinsmann has shown complete confidence in the youngster so far, but there will be little margin for error from now on. Will he give Gonzalez and Brooks another shot together (the two partnered in the final pre-Gold Cup tune-up against Guatemala on July 3) with everything on the line?
Based on what we've seen from the coach so far, that seems unlikely. But Klinsmann likes to keep people -- his players included -- guessing, so you just never know.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.