Today, victory for the USA was spelled R-E-D-E-M-P-T-I-O-N.
After losing to Panama 2-1 in group play, in what was a bit of a controversial game in terms of decisions made by the referee, the USA got back at Los Canaleros by shutting them out, 1-0, in Houston.
The United States, again with Landon Donovan starting on the bench, was content with playing a possession game for most of the first half. Choosing to make Panama chase, the Americans spent most of the half in their midfield and even back in their own half of the field, pinging the ball around.
Alejandro Bedoya, who wasn't even on the initial Gold Cup roster, again provided a spark from the get-go as his cross in the 17th minute found Dempsey on the far side. Dempsey redirected the ball back toward the net, but Panama's keeper intercepted his pass aimed for a streaking Juan Agudelo.
Agudelo would come close to another goal for the US. Cherundolo crossed the ball in perfectly from the right flank, and Agudelo's diving header hit the post and was cleared by the defense.
The US had several other opportunities to pressure the Panama back line, but too many times guys held on to the ball too long or their passes were behind their target, slowing down the attack.
The defense remained stout with Carlos Bocanegra leading the way. Panama had their best chance just before the half with a free kick just outside the box. The shot attempt, however, would go harmlessly above the goal.
Coming out of halftime, Landon Donovan checked into the game, replacing an ineffective Sasha Kljestan. The United States, however, came out flat-footed and lethargic as Panama cranked up their pressure and nearly caught the US off guard. Still, the defense remained composed in the face of the Panama attack and left Tim Howard with not a whole lot of action.
Howard would get tested in the 71st minute when Armando Cooper ripped a shot to the right of Howard's goal. He leaped and deflected the ball up and over the net. Other than that chance, Howard was left with little to do. This became Howard's third straight shutout.
Clint Dempsey, who has been so instrumental in the US's success, came through again in the clutch, this time knocking home Landon Donovan's pin-point accurate through-ball into the box in the 77th minute. That would be all the US would need to advance to their fourth straight Gold Cup Final. This was also the fourth straight time the US has eliminated Panama from Gold Cup competition.
It wasn't the best performance from the US, but not every victory is going to be pretty. This game showed their toughness and resolve when faced with a close game. Bob Bradley's substitutions and formations have worked out favorably.
Freddy Adu made his first appearance of this Gold Cup and performed admirably. He set up Landon Donovan's cross to Dempsey with a superb long ball that found Donovan on the run down the right side. He added some energy and showed his maturity after being heavily hyped as a teenager.
The finishing still remains a concern, but the defense remains incredibly cohesive. With Bocanegra's move back into the middle, Lichaj and Cherundolo have been nightmares going up and down the flanks, adding another element to the US attack. Michael Bradley got caught up too far a couple of times, but overall continued to display his role as the initiator.
The United States has gained a considerable amount of momentum. The team was scrutinized and Bob Bradley's job was thought to be in jeopardy after the 4-0 debacle against Spain. Bradley and his decisions have quieted those doubters, at least for now. In the long run, I believe the US needs another guy who can take them a step higher, but Bradley has done a very solid job in getting the US into the position it is now.
The US will face the winner of the Honduras-Mexico semifinal. Mexico defeated the United States in 2009 after the US had previously beaten Mexico in 2007.