Clint Dempsey walked away with the game ball for one of the few times in his career. With his first international hat trick, he boosted the United States to a 6-0 rout over Cuba on Saturday and into its eighth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal.
Dempsey put the Americans ahead with a fourth-minute header, converted a penalty kick in the 64th and added the final goal in the 78th.
In Wednesday’s semifinal at Atlanta, the Americans play Jamaica, which beat Haiti, 1-0, in the second game of the doubleheader.
“Habits carry over: scoring goals, getting a clean sheet, people getting assists,” Dempsey said. “That confidence, definitely it grows in the team. And as the tournament goes on, people are getting stronger as a group.”
Dempsey has scored a tournament-high six times, and his 47 international goals are 10 behind Landon Donovan’s American record.
“I didn’t know that it was his first hat trick. It took him a long time,” quipped U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann, who never had a three-goal game in his celebrated international career for Germany.
Gyasi Zardes (15th minute), Aron Johannsson (32nd) and Omar Gonzalez (45th) also scored as the Americans built a 4-0 halftime lead against a Cuban team depleted by five absent players who may have defected. Before a pro-U.S. crowd of 37,994, the Americans outshot the Cubans, 24-7.
“After a couple shaky performances in the group, we came out here and dominated the game,” Johannsson said.
Now 32, Dempsey has played up top in recent years under Klinsmann after being used as a withdrawn forward and a wide midfielder by Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.
“He’s always been a striker mentality,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “He’s a guy who is hungry and determined to make big plays, hungry and determined to score goals. And that’s always been him. It doesn’t really matter whether he’s lined up as an out-and-out striker, as a second striker, a little bit underneath somebody else, even at times under my dad, when he and Landon played, tilted wide.”
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. 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.
Cuba, which has a history of defections at sporting events, listed five of its 23 players 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 have been eliminated by Curacao in qualifying for the 2018 tournament.
“The players that aren’t here now, they don’t really mean anything to us because they’ve chosen their path,” Cuba Coach Raul Gonzalez said through an interpreter.