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U.S. tops Panama to reach fourth straight Gold Cup final

United States' Clint Dempsey, center, is congratulated by

United States' Clint Dempsey, center, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against Panama during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal soccer match. (June 22, 2011) Credit: AP

The United States men's soccer team accomplished a couple of unfortunate firsts in its previous game against Panama. Namely, its first loss to the Panamanians in nine games and its first Gold Cup group-stage loss in 27 games.

In their second meeting, the Americans welcomed a sense of familiarity. 

Clint Dempsey, like he's done twice before this tournament, collected a cross and slotted it into the net in the 76th minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 victory at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The United States will advance to its fourth consuective Gold Cup final Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, where it will take on tournament favorite and CONCACAF rival, Mexico.

The play of the game germinated from the most unusual of sources: Freddy Adu. Remember him?

Adu, who came on for Juan Agudelo in the 66th minute, served a beautiful ball for Landon Donovan, who was playing the role of substitute once again. Donovan was given about 20 yards of free space, took a few touches and drilled a ball toward the far post. Dempsey slid to meet it and the ball trickled in for Dempsey's third goal of the tournament.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard posted his third straight clean sheet and the U.S. is back in the final, where it owns a 2-1 record in the past three tournaments. The Americans will look to avenge the ugly 5-0 loss they suffered to Mexico in the 2009 final.  

Speaking of the 2009 Gold Cup -- that was the last time Adu earned a cap with the Red, White & Blue. After his sensational ball to Donovan, the midfielder delivered some more magic later in the game as he was seemingly able to beat any defender at any time. He set up a dangerous scoring chance in the 87th minute on a terrific run and a perfect pass to Michael Bradley in the box. Bradley, however, took one touch too many and the play was foiled.

Did Adu just earn some more minutes this weekend? Likely, I'd say.

The first half was fairly uneventful with the exception of a nice chance for the U.S. in the 25th minute. Defender Steve Cherundolo delivered an excellent ball into the box, where Agudelo headed it downward and off the post.

Agudelo started as the lone striker in the absence of Jozy Altidore, who will miss the rest of the tournament with a strained left hamstring. Agudelo had a tough time trying to muscle past Panama's brawny center backs, Felipe Baloy and Roman Torres, all game.

Panama's best opportunity came at the end of the half, when Alberto Quintero made a move past Clarence Goodson and drew a foul on the outside of the box. Nelson Barahona, however, blasted his curling free kick well over the bar.

The starting lineup:

-------------------------- Agudelo (Adu, 66th) -------------------------------

--------------------------------------- Kljestan (Donovan, 45th) ----------

---- Dempsey -------- Jones ----------- Bradley -------- Bedoya -----

--- Lichaj -------- Bocanegra ------- Goodson ----- Cherundolo ---

---------------------------------- [ Howard ] -----------------------------------



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