HOUSTON — Perhaps Landon Donovan is better coming off the bench after all.
Entering the match as a substitute for the second game running, Donovan’s inch-perfect pass found Clint Dempsey lurking at the far post in the 76th minute, and the U.S. attacker stabbed the ball home to give the U.S. men’s national team a 1-0 Gold Cup semifinal victory over Panama.
It was a vindication of sorts on a multitude of levels for the U.S. team. Manager Bob Bradley’s gutsy — and unexpected — decision to sit Donovan again paid off. Freddy Adu, seeing his first action of the tournament, also repaid his manager’s faith, by getting involved in the build up on the game-winner.
But bigger than any individual contribution was the fact that after some shaky performances in group play, including a previous loss to the Canaleros, the U.S. finds itself in its fourth consecutive Gold Cup final. It has by no means been the easiest of roads, but the Americans are exactly where they hoped to be at this stage of the tournament.
Clearly mindful of Panama’s threat on the counterattack, as well as the fact that the Canaleros were heavy-legged after being taken to penalties in their quarterfinal, the U.S. adopted its Death By 1,000 Paper Cuts offense in the first half. The Americans were perfectly content to possess the ball for long stretches and make Panama chase, even if it meant staying in their own half.