KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The United States advanced to the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday night, but they did so with a grain of salt.
The Americans’ 1-0 victory against Guadeloupe at Livestrong Sporting Park certainly got the job done; however, Bob Bradley’s team was left with the distinct feeling that the performance they turned it wasn’t anywhere close to their best.
This was not the kind of sharp performance that many — the US included — expected after the national team suffered their first-ever Gold Cup group stage loss against Panama on Saturday. The Yanks outshot the Gwada Boys 21-5 and got on the board via a highlight-reel goal from Jozy Altidore but piddled away chance after chance, keeping the underdogs in a position to rally until the final whistle.
“Certainly it was a game where at the end, we felt we should have finished the game early,” Bradley said. “We had good chances to get the second goal and see what would happen after that.”
What happened was an exhibition of impotence in front of goal led by two of the Americans’ most accomplished finishers in Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
The primary offender was Dempsey, who saw a handful of tantalizing opportunities pass him by over 90 frustrating minutes. He sent two unmarked headers past either post in the first half, hit the crossbar with a dipping free kick and squandered an empty net while unmarked in the six-yard box.
All were plays most would expect Dempsey to finish, including the player himself.
“We expect a lot of ourselves,” he said. “Tonight, I wasn’t good enough with my chances. Just couldn’t buy a goal.”
In hindsight, Dempsey said he should have hit Alejandro Bedoya’s 76th-minute ball across the face of goal first time. Instead, he took his time and had the ball stripped off his foot with every inch of the goalmouth gaping, leaving the US to kill the game with no margin for error.
“It was bobbling up a little bit,” Dempsey said. “I thought no one was on me. I thought I could take two touches. Wrong decision on my part.”
For all his running and connecting play, Donovan was guilty of some errant finishing as well, sending his own prime scoring opportunity into orbit behind the Guadeloupe goal following a beautiful setup from Jermaine Jones.
“I don’t know that it’s always easy to sharpen your attacking play,” Donovan said. “Some days it’s there and some days it’s not. I think we made a lot of good plays, a lot of good passes to get to the final sport. Our finishing let us down.”
Fortunately, that inability to finish didn’t keep the Americans from advancing to a quarterfinal matchup with a Jamaica squad that ran rampant through their own group. Unfortunately, it could eventually be the deciding factor between an early exit in the knockout stages and the final run Bradley and his players have targeted from the start of the tournament.
But another day brings another game and more opportunities – ones that Dempsey, Donovan and the rest of the American team know they’ll have to treat with more precision if they hope to accomplish the goals they laid out at the beginning of this competition.
“You always have to lean on your big players and they are that for us,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “They can’t be great every game, unfortunately. They’ve carried us a long way and we will continue to lean on them.”