At the end of the day, the knockout stages of any tournament are about survive and advance.
The United States did survive dominant second half from Curacao to hold on to a 1-0 lead provided by Weston McKinnie in the 25th minute.
The US nearly took the lead in the opening minutes, when Paul Arriola centered a ball just behind Christian Pulisic at the top of the six yard box. Pulisic was able to get an awkward shot off despite the position of the ball, only for Curacao’s Eloy Room to make a spectacular reactionary save.
Twenty minutes later, Room was caught between two minds as Pulisic crossed a ball to the back post. Room held is ground at the middle of goal only to see McKinnie head downwards inside the near post for the opening goal. This would be the USA’s last shot on target until Michael Bradley’s long range effort in the 90th minute and their only other significant chance was a Tyler Boyd shot just wide near the hour mark and a wayward Jordan Morris volley in the late stages.
The USMNT spent the remaining hour after taking the lead seemingly on the back foot, unable to break the Curacao pressure as they were often pinned back in their own half for long stretches while Curacao was able to move the ball freely while they were in possession. Substitutions and adjustments from head coach Gregg Berhalter were late, though Jordan Morris provided some spark off the bench for the final thirty minutes.
The United States struggled to keep possession and build from the back. Jozy Altidore’s hold up play could have been a welcome addition to the game but he never checked in. Pulisic was too often tracking back into his own third to find the ball that the American’s effort to transition up field was often disjointed.
Luckily for the US, Curacao didn’t get off a lot of shots on Zack Steffan’s goal, the best change being a late 87th minute Leandro Bacuna effort tipped over the bar. Curacao generated six corner kicks and 5 of 15 shooting on the night compared to just two corners and 3 of 10 shooting for the US. Curacao also had better passing numbers and possession numbers but were unable to find an equalizer thanks to some solid emergency defending from the USA, with Michael Bradley and Tim Ream in particular closing out some good chances.
Curacao exits their first quarterfinal with breakout stars Bacuna and Room leading a solid campaign and calender year for Curacao. The Caribbean Champions will begin their Nations League A flight matches this fall.
The United States will now move on to face Jamaica, after their 1-0 win over Panama thanks to a late penalty.
Jamaica-Panama combined for just 6 of 14 shooting with Jamaica a miserable 66% passing on the night and below 50% in the attacking zones as they preferred to hit back on the counter for most of the night. Panama’s best chance might have been in the first half, when they forced keeper Andre Blake well off his line and then outside of the box as he chased down a loose ball to concede a corner.
However, all of that didn’t matter when in the 75th minute, Panama right back was whistled for a handball challenging Jamaican substitute Darren Mattocks for an aerial ball. Mattocks won the header and the ball glanced off Murillo’s upright arm just inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot.
(Everyone, this is a handball. I do not know how many times I have to say this, nothing good happens with your arm above your shoulder in the game of soccer. Stop doing that.)
Mattocks dispatched the penalty and despite some late pressure, Jamaica held on for the win to advance to the semifinals for the third straight tournament.
While the US and Jamaica might have won in unconvincing fashion, both teams are very familiar with each other. They played a pre-tournament friendly that featured mostly fringe US players in a 1-0 Jamaica win, Jamaica won the 2015 semifinal 2-1 with the USA taking the Final last year by the same scoreline.
The second Gold Cup semifinal will take place on Wednesday July 3rd from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee at 9pm.