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U.S. soccer continues to roll

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Associated Press
July 24, 2009
— First the big boys in South Africa, now the JV at home. No matter who the United States puts on the field these days, they’re finding a way to win.

Clarence Goodson scored at the end of the first half and Kenny Cooper at the end of the second to give a young American team a 2-0 victory over Honduras on Thursday night and a spot in its third straight CONCACAF Gold Cup final. The Americans, winners of the last two Gold Cup titles, will play Mexico in Sunday’s final at the Meadowlands. The Mexicans edged Costa Rica 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.


“It’s a big opportunity for all of us, and we’re all trying to take advantage of that,” said Goodson, who got his first goal in his fifth appearance with the U.S. team.


Honduras had a chance to tie with 5 minutes to play, but goalkeeper Troy Perkins and defender Jay Heaps made big stops. Perkins made an excellent save on a shot by Carlo Costly, then Heaps made a sliding block to clear the rebound and end the threat.


Cooper then sealed the victory with a goal in the 90th, one-timing a pass from Stuart Holden past Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escobar. As the Americans celebrated, Escobar leaned into the net, stone-faced.


It was the U.S. team’s third win over Honduras in less than seven weeks, and the second at Soldier Field.


“I think it’s going to be a sweet and sour taste going back home,” Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “We have to accept reality and learn from what we experienced here. … We didn’t reach our objective in reaching the final.”


The U.S. men stunned the soccer world last month by upsetting top-ranked Spain before falling to Brazil in the Confederations Cup. The Gold Cup may not have quite the buzz as that tournament, which also featured World Cup champion Italy, but this run is impressive in its own right.


U.S. coach Bob Bradley did a complete makeover of his roster after the Confederations Cup, letting most of his top players return to their MLS teams or take time off ahead of the European season. In their place, he brought in a bunch of youngsters, many making their first appearances with the senior national team.


While they might not have the flair of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard or Carlos Bocanegra, the kids have been more than all right.


The Americans have gone unbeaten in the tournament, and several young players have emerged who could play a role in next year’s World Cup. Goodson is the sixth American to get his first goal during the World Cup. Holden had assists on both goals Thursday, adding to the two he scored in earlier games.


“They’re not intimidated by the situations,” said Brian Ching, the lone regular starter on the Gold Cup roster after missing the Confederations Cup with a strained hamstring.


“Some of the guys have shown well, and that’s always a good sign of things to come.”


The Americans beat the Hondurans in the opening round of the Gold Cup, and it was clear early on the result would likely be the same Thursday. The United States had significant advantage in shots on goal (17-10) and corner kicks (10-5).


And that was even with squandering several chances late in the first half, including near-misses by both Holden and Ching in the final 3 minutes. Holden’s free kick in the 43rd was tipped over the crossbar by Escobar, while Ching grazed the crossbar a minute later with a left-footed shot from close range.


Finally, in stoppage time, the Americans broke through off a corner kick by Holden.


After Holden took his first corner in practice Wednesday, Bradley walked onto the field and stood directly in front of the goal, telling Goodson, “This is where you need to be.”


Good call.


Goodson outjumped Costly for the ball and headed it past Escobar into the net. Goodson is the 10th U.S. player to score during the Gold Cup; the Americans have 12 goals overall.


“It was a momentum changer, for sure,” Goodson said. “Obviously 1-0 gave us a huge boost. To come out of the first half with nothing, I’m sure they went into their locker room depressed.”


The Americans kept up the pressure, with shots by Holden and Chad Marshall in the opening minutes of the second half. But they couldn’t convert.


“For sure the opportunities we had in the early part of the second half, you worry about,” Bradley said. “Sometimes when you don’t take advantage of opportunities, you pay for it.”


The Americans finally got their insurance goal in the 90th minute, thanks to a nice setup by Ching and Holden. Ching flicked the ball to Holden—his teammate on the Houston Dynamo—with his back heel, and Holden crossed to Cooper for the one-timer and the victory.


“We knew from the start of the tournament it was a great opportunity for some younger players,” Bradley said. “But we also made it clear we were the defending champs.”



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