In what has become a disturbingly-regular trend across both the men's and women's national teams for the United States, the Nats continued their slow start to the Gold Cup at Gillette Stadium on Friday night with a 1-0 win over Haiti. Clint Dempsey was again the scorer as his 47th-minute strike proved the difference in a match that was every bit as close as the scoreline suggested.
Despite turning in unconvincing performances, the U.S. clinched first place in Group A with a game to spare thanks to a full six points from a possible six. They now go into Monday's match against Panama with the luxury of taking any approach they would like.
"We're happy to be already in the quarterfinals," said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "I think every player now knows how tricky and how difficult these games are. We have the privilege to make a lot of changes...and now we have the privilege also to handle our third match the way we want to from a coach's perspective."
It was by no means easy. Haiti spent the majority of the first half tearing the Yank defense to pieces, slashing through on the break and forcing turnover after turnover in midfield. Their pressure generated a host of mistakes, including a Tim Ream giveaway in the box in the 36th minute that resulted in a shot just wide from Wilde-Donald Guerrier.
Haiti's best chance, however, came in the 10th minute when Charlotte Independence midfielder Mechak Jerome curled a free kick off the crossbar from about 25 yards out. If the ball had been a foot lower, the game may have looked much different.
"I think in the first half we effectively controlled the ball," said Haiti head coach Marc Collat via translator. "But in the second half I think we had a little bit of fatigue, it was a little bit more difficult to control, and I think that was due to the quality of the American team."
The introduction of Gyasi Zardes in place of Jozy Altidore at the half proved the difference. It was Zardes who expertly trapped and controlled a pass in the box before hitting the byline and cutting the ball back to a wide-open Clint Dempsey at the penalty spot, who couldn't miss for his third goal of the tournament.
Zardes injected energy into a stagnant attack and turned in a confident performance, but Altidore, by contrast, looked disconnected and out of sorts. Klinsmann was not worried, however, and expects the nation's best out-and-out striker to come around as the tournament progresses.
"Jozy's still working in his process," said Klinsmann. "We talked about it in the last couple of days, the work is ongoing, and I'm not worried about it. He's going to come into this tournament, he will get stronger and stronger with every day in training and every minute on the field.
"He's still in the process of getting his fitness, becoming 100% Jozy Altidore. We know he's going to come sooner or later into this tournament and score some goals, but we also want to be cautious with him."
Also noteworthy: while Haiti went close with a 10th minute free kick, the United States had a goal incorrectly ruled offside in the 34th. Aron Johannsson collected a pass from Altidore in the area and fired home, but the assistant lifted his flag. Replays showed that Johannsson was very much onside, and it wasn't even a close play.
The Yanks close out group play at the Gold Cup on Monday, July 14th at 9:30 PM in Kansas City against Panama. They will be looking for a third consecutive Gold Cup record for attendance, as tonight's match set a new record at Gillette with 46,720 fans, while Tuesday's match set a new Dallas record.