Soccer: Rodolfo Zelaya
Bob Bradley and the U.S. national team answered their critics Sunday with an exquisite performance, dominating Jamaica to set a rematch with Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.Jermaine Jones' deflected volley at the start of the second half made the difference in the 2-0 triumph, and without the deflection -- and an unfortunate red card -- the opening quarterfinal in Washington would have gone to overtime and perhaps penalty kicks.
Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was that good -- easily the best player on the field, making six saves ranging from merely great to oh-my-God sensational to prevent the Yanks from ringing up an impressive scoreline.
Clint Dempsey added a late goal, benefiting from the red card to Houston Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor and the Reggae Boyz's need to push forward in search of an equalizer.
Panama, which stunned the U.S. in group play, did its part in the nightcap, winning on penalties after rallying for a 1-1 draw with El Salvador, which was supported by a vocal crowd of 45,423 at RFK Stadium in Washington.
A ninth-minute hamstring injury to Jozy Altidore, who was stretchered off the field with his face buried in his hands, marred a U.S. triumph that should -- but won't -- subside calls to end Bradley's tenure. The Manhattan Beach-based coach has always had his critics, but he's been particularly under fire after a disastrous showing in the pre-Gold Cup friendly with Spain was followed by poor performances against Panama and Guadeloupe.
Some of the criticism is on target. The U.S. has a knack for going behind early -- we saw it at the World Cup last year, and with better finishing Guadeloupe and Jamaica would have joined Panama with a quick lead. In a sport in which comebacks are difficult, it's a major concern, and it points to problems with preparedness.
The U.S. performance against Jamaica answers so many questions, and if it's something Bradley's boys can build upon -- if it is imbedded in the fabric of the team rather than a wonderful one-off -- it could open a path to unprecedented play and, perhaps, success.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As good as Jamaica has been in this Gold Cup -- watch out for the Reggae Boyz in World Cup qualifying! -- Mexico is a different animal, and El Tri won't sit back and counter, as the Jamaicans tried to do.
Play with this kind of verve, with all the possession and interchange, against Mexico -- and then against the Europeans and South America's giants -- and we might have something here.
A quick look at the 15th day in the region's nations championship:
SALUTING JONES: Jones, the German-born and -bred son of an American serviceman, offered a Father's Day military salute after he volleyed Taylor's clearance from 25 yards to give the U.S. a 49th-minute lead.
None of that U.S.-style underachieving for Mexico.
Sure, El Tri are missing six players -- five of them in doping intrigue -- and Sunday's foe was one of the best they'll come up against in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but it mattered not at all in a one-sided Group A decider.
Andres Guardado scored two spectacular goals and the Mexicans netted three by the 26th minute en route to a 4-1 romp over Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago, which nonetheless qualified for the quarterfinals by finishing second in the group.
El Salvador also won big, demolishing Cuba, 6-1, with a series of superb goals to position itself for one of the at-large berths into the tournament's knockout stage.
A quick look at the eighth day of group play in the region's nations championship:
MASTERFUL MEXICO: El Tri hasn't been slowed by its troubles, looking unbeatable while routing all three Group A foes. Sunday's victory was the most impressive, given the quality of the opposition and their overwhelming dominance in building a 4-0 first-half advantage.
All four goals were outstanding, with Rafa Marquez's powerful 17th-minute header from Pablo Barrera's corner kick and Barrera's fine finish from a nifty give-and-go with Carlos Salcido in the 38th sandwiching Guardado's wonder strikes.
Five players, including starting goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa and defender Francisco Javier Rodriguez, were dropped from Mexico's squad after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, but Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos scored two goals apiece to lead its second successive five-goal romp.
Costa Rica needed a last-second goal from Randall Brenes to draw, 1-1, with El Salvador in the first game of a doubleheader that drew 46,000-plus to Bank of America Stadium.
DRUG CHEATS?: A Mexican federation official said it was likely Ochoa, Rodriguez and three other players -- defender Edgar Dueñas and midfielders Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez and Antonio "Zinha" Naelson -- ingested tainted chicken or beef before testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol.
All five were dropped from the team, pending an investigation, with Alfredo Talavera stepping into the nets for Ochoa and captain Rafa Marquez returning to the starting XI in place of Rodriguez.