The U.S. men's national team is moving on in the Concacaf Gold Cup, but it wasn't pretty.
Weston McKennie's 25th-minute goal held up, as the U.S. defeated Curacao 1-0 despite being outpossessed and outshot by the Caribbean island nation Sunday night in Philadelphia. The Americans will play Jamaica, a 1-0 winner over Panama earlier on Sunday, in the semifinals.
More was expected from the U.S., which went 3-0-0 during the group stage and outscored Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Panama by a combined 11-0 to take first place. Curaçao, despite its inexperience on this stage and its 79th ranking in FIFA's world table, beat Honduras and tied Jamaica en route to its first knockout berth in the competition and showed well, asking plenty of questions of the U.S. and forcing Zack Steffen into making five saves–including a highlight reel one in the final minutes to preserve the scoreline.
Despite scoring the game-winner vs. Panama, Jozy Altidore returned to the bench for this match, with Gyasi Zardes restored to the starting lineup by U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. Christian Pulisic became the latest to wear the captain's armband in what's become a rotating honor, while McKennie also started and was the only U.S. player carrying a yellow card from earlier in the competition. He steered clear of picking up another one, though, avoiding a semifinal suspension.
Both teams looked to strike within the first 75 seconds. Elson Hooi embarked on a dangerous run right through the U.S. midfield, but the danger was cleared before Bacuna could gain it in a dangerous position in the box. Breaking the other way, Pulisic went on a darting run of his own, electing to fire away from 20 yards instead of playing to either of his accompanying wingers, who appeared to be in position for a set-up had Pulisic elected to pass.
Pulisic nearly scored a couple minutes later. Paul Arriola set him up on the doorstep, but goalkeeper Eloy Room made a sensational save to swat the point-blank chance over the bar.
Hooi threatened again for Curacao in the 13th minute, trying his hand from long distance by blasting a 25-foot chance just high of Steffen's goal.
The 10 minutes that ensued featured a more balanced match. The U.S. wasn't finding as much space as easily to create in the final third, while Curaçao got more of the ball, though wasn't really able to trouble Steffen at all. The one time the underdogs tried was an 80-yard hopeful launch, trying to catch Steffen off his line, only to underhit it and have it land comfortably in the goalkeeper's hands.
The USA took the lead moments later. It came from the team's two 20-year-old standouts, with Pulisic curling a cross for McKennie, who headed it home to beat Room in the 25th minute.
Curaçao looked to strike back and very nearly did five minutes later. Gevaro Nepomuceno had a curled chance from long range deflect and dip just by the far post, with Steffen rooted to the ground hoping to watch it go to safety. It did, and the U.S. cleared the danger off the ensuing corner kick.
Nepomuceno got in behind in the final minute of the first half, splitting the defense with a run to latch onto a through ball, only for Tim Ream to come racing over to sweep the ball to safety and preserve the lead.
Curacao maintained the momentum that it built to end the first half at the start of the second. Again, it didn't ever really threaten Steffen's goal, but the amount of teasing possession it held in the USA's third had to be unsettling for Berhalter & Co.
In the 56th minute, Pulisic nearly extended the USA's lead on a rare move the other way, with the Chelsea signing pulling the trigger from 20 yards, only to drag his chance just wide of the left post.
Back on the other half, Nepomuceno called Steffen into action in the 62nd minute, taking on Ream and firing in with his left, but the U.S. goalkeeper got down and made the clean catch for his second save.
With the U.S. struggling to put the game away, a chance to do so came in the 79th minute. On the counterattack, Pulisic played the ball to Arriola down the left-hand side. He crossed for Zardes in the center of the box, but he couldn't keep his chance off the bounce down, instead directing it over the bar.
The U.S. got a gift a couple minutes later, when Room misplayed a backpass off his shin and out for a corner, and on the ensuing set piece Jordan Morris, on off the bench, had the ball bounce up for him, only to put his opportunity over the bar as well.
The wastefulness was nearly punished in the 85th minute, only for Steffen to come up huge. Bacuna whipped a dangerous chance on frame, one earmarked for the upper left-hand corner, but the U.S. goalkeeper made a full-extension leaping save to paw it out for a corner.
On a night when the U.S. wound up outpossessed 52.4% to 47.6% and outshot 15-10 (5-3 on target), it did enough to go through, and its title defense will continue Wednesday night in Nashville against the Reggae Boyz.
Here was the USA's lineup for the night:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
GOALKEEPERS: Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Tyler Miller (LAFC), Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
DEFENDERS: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Omar Gonzalez (Toronto FC), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Tim Ream (Fulham), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Tyler Boyd (Vitória Guimãres), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
GOALKEEPERS: Zeus de la Paz (Oldham Athletic), Jairzinho Pieter (Vesta), Eloy Room (PSV Eindhoven)
DEFENDERS: Jurich Carolina (Den Bosch), Juriën Caari (RKC Waalwijk), Darryl Lachman (PEC Zwolle), Cuco Martina (Feyenoord), Shermar Martina (MVV Maastricht)
MIDFIELDERS: Leandro Bacuna (Cardiff City), Roly Bonevacia (Al-Faisaly), Shanon Carmelia (IJsselmeervogels), Gersinio Constancia (Jong Holland), Michaël Maria (Charlotte Independence), Shermaine Martina (MVV Maastricht), Ayrton Statie (Lienden), Jimbertson Vapor (Scherpenheuvel)
FORWARDS: Jarchinio Antonia (Apollon Limassol), Jafar Arias (Emmen), Charlison Benschop (De Graafschap), Kenji Gorre (Nacional), Elson Hooi (ADO Den Haag), Gevaro Nepomuceno (Oldham Athletic), Gino van Kessel (Roeselare)