Clint Dempsey scored his first-ever international hat trick to lead the USMNT past Cuba. (Photo: SI/Twitter)
by Ronald Blum - AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Clint Dempsey scored on a fourth-minute header, added a pair of second-half goals for his first international hat trick, and the United States routed Cuba 6-0 on Saturday to reach its eighth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal.
Dempsey converted a penalty kick early in the second half and added a late goal to raise his tournament-leading total to six. Dempsey's 57 international goals are 10 behind Landon Donovan's American record.
Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson and Omar Gonzalez also scored as the Americans built a 4-0 halftime lead against a Cuban team depleted by five absent players who may have defected.
In Wednesday's semifinal at Atlanta, the Americans will play the winner of Saturday's late game between Jamaica and Haiti, the first all-Caribbean knockout stage Gold Cup match. With its highest victory margin in the championship of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region, the U.S. improved to 8-1 in Gold Cup quarterfinals, the only blemish a penalty-kicks loss to Colombia in 2000.
It was more than 90 degrees on the field and sunny for the 5 p.m. kickoff, causing Costa Rican referee Henry Bejarano to call for a water break after the third goal.
Cuba, which has a history of defections at sporting events, listed more than 20 percent of its 23-man roster as absent: goalkeeper Arael Arguellez, midfielders Dario Suarez, Aricheel Hernandez and Ariel Martinez; and forward Keiler Garcia. The Cubans, ranked 104th, have not reached the World Cup since 1938 and already were eliminated by Curacao in qualifying for the 2018 tournament.
Fabian Johnson started the play that led to the opening goal, pushing up from left back and playing a cross that went through to the other side of the field. Zardes ran down the ball and played it back to Chandler, and with his left foot the right back lofted the ball from 30 yards to Dempsey, who headed it past goalkeeper Diosvelis Guerra from 8 yards.
Johnson then made a 25-yard pass from the flank to Zardes, who burst pass the defense and volleyed in with his right foot from 6 yards in the 15th minute. U.S. Captain Michael Bradley fed Johannsson with a 50-yard pass for the third goal in the 32nd. The Icelandic-American ran onto the ball, took a touch and chipped Guerra from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Gonzalez, who played for the University of Maryland, made it 4-0 in the 45th minute with his first international goal. After Bradley took a corner kick, Johannsson headed it down and the defender while falling poked the ball in from 3 yards. That gave the U.S. four goals in a half of a competitive match for the first time since a 6-1 win over Cuba in 2008.
Chandler, who has a sore knee, was replaced by Brad Evans for the start of the second half. Dempsey made the penalty kick in the 64th minute after Angel Horta pulled on Johannsson's jersey in the penalty area and scored sliding with his right foot from 7 yards in the 78th off a pass from Bradley.