United States entirely focused on Gold Cup success, says Jurgen Klinsmann
BALTIMORE -- A day before the United States dismantled Cuba 6-0 in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on the strength of Clint Dempsey's first international hat trick, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann opined that the Americans were "definitely the team to beat in this tournament."
Klinsmann also said all the requisite things about respecting the depleted Cubans, who had lost four players to defection during their stay in the country, and insisted his squad would not look past their undermanned, overmatched foe.
Yet before Saturday's match started, Klinsmann was clearly concerned that the former message would be the one that stuck with his players, as opposed to the latter.
"We wanted them to take it really seriously," Klinsmann said afterward. "I made it very, very clear: If there is somebody on the field who takes it lightly, then I'm going to take him off after 10 minutes. You have to be on your toes in these types of games. You cannot have the wrong body language. You can't be arrogant.
"Cuba deserved to be in that quarterfinal," Klinsmann continued. "They did a tremendous job. What their coaching staff is going through is unthinkable for us. Again, a huge compliment to them and what they achieved, but also to our team. They were serious. They were down to business. They were focused. They got their goals early. They got a rhythm. And they showed the crowd a really good game."
They did indeed. The U.S. was all over Cuba from the start. They didn't let up until the final whistle on a sweltering day at M&T Bank Stadium. And nobody put on a better show for the fans than Dempsey, who seemed to take another of his boss' messages to heart.
Before the match, Klinsmann said he told his team a story about how, as a star striker for West Germany's team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he didn't take a first round match against the lowly United Arab Emirates seriously enough. He got a goal in the first half, but said he "should have scored five."
"Two games into the World Cup, I would have been already been the top scorer of the tournament," Klinsmann said. "But I didn't do it. That's what it told them."
Klinsmann challenged Dempsey before this Gold Cup to win the competition's Golden Boot award. Sure enough, Dempsey is now the runaway leader with six goals -- twice as many as Mexico's Oribe Peralta, who will play for El Tri in their quarterfinal match Sunday against Costa Rica -- thanks in large part to his performance against the Cubans. But it's not only the 32-year-old's finishing that has impressed Klinsmann so far.
"What we like and really enjoy the last couple weeks is his energy to also come back and help out [defensively]," Klinsmann said, mentioning an area of Dempsey's game that hasn't always been as lauded as his attacking qualities during his career.
Of course, the scoring is nice, too. "He's hungry for goals and that helps us. He has two more meals ahead of him."
The Americans' opponent in Wednesday's semifinal in Atlanta is Jamaica, which narrowly defeated plucky Haiti, 1-0, in Saturday's nightcap. The U.S. is hoping that the final -- and not the third-place game -- awaits them in Philadelphia after that.
"You come into the tournament knowing that it's going to take six games, all-out, to lift the trophy," U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. "There was no expectation on our part that these games were easy."
But if the Yanks' three group-stage games were a slog -- the first two, against Honduras and Haiti, were decided by one goal, and they managed only a draw against Panama in the first-round finale -- Saturday's tilt certainly looked easier. Bradley insisted that it wasn't.
"Okay, we win 6-0. But the feeling on the field is not of a game where you're just going through the motions and it's a walk in the park," he said. "It's hot as can be, the field is heavy as can be, and it's still a physical team."
Dempsey, for his part, barely talked about his own memorable night, repeatedly turning the focus back to his teammates.
"I think we're getting stronger as a group. Hopefully our best ball is yet to come," the Texan said, subtly sending a message of his own: Winning this title is going to require a total team effort, and the U.S. isn't about to let up now.
- Dempsey now has 47 international goals, 10 shy of Landon Donovan's U.S. record. But take away spot-kicks -- Donovan was the Yanks' designated penalty-taker for most of his 15-year career -- and they're dead even, with 42 apiece.
- Klinsmann said that veteran DaMarcus Beasley, who came out of international retirement to be one of three players added to the U.S. roster ahead of the knockout stage (along with Joe Corona and Alan Gordon), didn't play because he took a knock to the calf in his first training session. Gordon didn't get off the bench, either, but Corona played the entire second half in place of 33-year-old defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who was presumably being rested ahead of the semifinal.
- Right-back Timmy Chandler made his third start in four games but was replaced by Brad Evans at halftime as a precaution after complaining of soreness in his knee. Klinsmann said Chandler should be fine for Wednesday's match.
- With John Brooks suspended, Omar Gonzalez got the start in central defense alongside youngster Ventura Alvarado, and he scored his first international goal in the 45th minute. The 26-year-old Gonzalez -- who started two games for the U.S. at last summer's World Cup -- has been behind both Alvarado and Brooks in Klinsmann's pecking order this month, but Klinsmann wouldn't bite when asked if there might be a change for the semi. "I have my thoughts," Klinsmann said. "I'll keep them to myself until Wednesday night."
- Saturday's tilt marked just the second time Gonzalez and Alvarado had been paired, the first coming in the Americans' 2-0 win against Mexico in April. Gonzalez was complimentary of the 22-year-old after the match, and compared the growing pains the Club America man has gone though in this tournament to his own in the final "Hexagonal" round of World Cup qualifying two years ago. "I was thrown into the Hex, which was very difficult, and now he's been thrown into a few big games," Gonzalez said of Alvarado. "I think he's doing well with his opportunities."
- The temperature in Baltimore never got above 90 degrees, but it was warm enough on the field that referee Henry Bejarano halted the match so the teams could take a water break in the 32nd minute. "This is the hottest weather I've ever played in," said striker Aron Johannsson, who grew up in Iceland, and who scored on a sublime chip off a Bradley pass in the first half. "I heard it's going to be hot in Atlanta, so this is good preparation for that."
- The heat also may have impacted the gate: Although more than 40,000 tickets were sold for the twin bill, CONCACAF announced the attendance as 37,994.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.