Bob Bradley has earned a reputation for being conservative and unimaginative during his time atop the U.S. national soccer team.
But Sunday, facing one of the sternest tests in his five years as coach, Bradley rolled the dice and came up huge, with the U.S. beating Jamaica, 2-0, in Washington, D.C., to advance to Gold Cup semifinals.
The Americans struggled to score in pool play, failing to win their group for the first time in tournament history. Yet Bradley responded by benching Landon Donovan, the most prolific scorer in U.S. history, and starting a formation heavy in the midfield.
"We just played good football," Dempsey said. "We were patient. We were confident. We moved the ball around well."
The U.S., hoping to play a possession game, lined up five midfielders and four defenders, with Sacha Kljestan joining the midfield along with Alejandro Bedoya, who started in place of Donovan.
"Bob really wanted us to be a team today that kept the ball the whole game, kept it moving," Kljestan said. "So I was just trying to find those spots and those gaps. And it worked well.
"We kept the ball for long periods and it really tired them out."
Not that everything worked perfectly. The U.S. lost its lone forward, Jozy Altidore, in the 12th minute with a strained left hamstring. And after a scoreless first half marked by great goalkeeping, it took a significant stroke of good fortune for the Americans to break the tie four minutes after the intermission.
That play started with Jones getting off a hard shot from just outside the penalty area. Jamaican keeper Donovan Ricketts moved over to make the save, but teammate Jermaine Taylor's foot got their first, deflecting the ball past his diving keeper into the net.
The goal was the first Jamaica allowed in the tournament and the first in international play for the 29-year-old Jones.
Less than 20 minutes later, Taylor and Jones tangled again and again Jones came out the winner when Taylor was given a red card for a rough tackle, forcing Jamaica to play the final 25 minutes shorthanded.
The U.S. exploited that advantage in the 80th minute when Juan Agudelo, Altidore's replacement, found Clint Dempsey with a perfect cross to the left of goal. Ricketts came out to challenge but Dempsey deftly avoided the keeper and tapped the ball into the empty net, sending the U.S. into Wednesday's semifinal rematch with Panama riding a new wave of confidence.
"As we've gone on we've progressed as a team and we're on this momentum, we're getting better," Dempsey said. "I think we're going to peak at the right time."
Panama advanced by beating El Salvador on penalty kicks in what was clearly the best match of the tournament to date. Trailing 1-0 with 20 seconds left in regulation time, Panama tied the game when Salvadoran keeper Miguel Montes was ruled to be on the wrong side of the goal line when he stopped a shot from Luis Tejada.
Both keepers came up huge in the overtime, but the biggest save came in the shootout when Panama's Jaime Penedo blocked a try from Dennis Alas with his foot, sending Panama on to the next round against the U.S, a team it beat in group play.
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.