Dempsey-led U.S. tops Ecuador for Copa semi spot

Clint Dempsey (pictured) celebrates after scoring in the USA's Copa America Centenario quarterfinal win over Ecuador on June 16, 2016, in Seattle, Washington, USA. (Photo: Mexsport)

SEATTLE, Washington – Clint Dempsey had a goal and an assist as the United States advanced to the Copa America semifinals for a second-ever time, outlasting Ecuador 2-1 on Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

The Americans will next meet the winner of Saturday’s Argentina-Venezuela encounter on June 21 in Houston.

Gyasi Zardes scored what proved to be the game-winner in the 65th minute, while Ecuador’s Michael Arroyo halved the deficit nine minutes later.

In a quarterfinal that saw each side be reduced to 10 players in the 52nd minute, the Americans’ survived an Ecuadorian second-half onslaught that could have yielded more than a single goal if not for numerous near misses and a miraculous save from Brad Guzan to prevent an own-goal.

It was Dempsey’s continuing heroics that proved to be the difference.

Playing in his home stadium, the 33-year-old gave the host a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute.  Bobby Wood got things started by making a run deep into the right side of the Ecuador area and holding off a pair of defenders.  He rolled a pass just outside the top-right of the box to Jermaine Jones, who delivered a cross in between the penalty spot and the goal box that Dempsey headed into the right side of the net for his third goal of the competition.

Just before halftime, Ecuador nearly equalized, but Guzan did well to save an effort by Arroyo after a backpass by U.S. captain Michael Bradley was intercepted.

Seven minutes into the second half, Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia was ejected for his second yellow card, following a foul against Alejandro Bedoya near the team benches.  Players from both sides squabbled and Jones was also sent off for appearing to make contact with Arroyo’s face.

The Americans doubled the advantage in the 65th minute.  Matt Besler sent a first-time cross from the left into box.  Zardes headed the ball to his left for Dempsey. Fighting off a Fernando Gaibor challenge, the Seattle Sounders star directed the ball with his left foot to the far post, where Zardes was located for the simplest of tap-ins.

Ecuador’s lone strike came in the 74th minute from 20-yards out off the powerful right foot of Arroyo, one of Club America’s stars during its run to the 2015/16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League title.

Energized by the goal, the South Americans increased the offensive intensity.  Enner Valencia – on two golden opportunities -- headed wide of the left post in the 76th minute and did the same past the right post a minute later.  Seconds after those near misses, Walter Ayovi blazed over the crossbar.

In the first minute of stoppage time, a ball ricocheted off U.S. defender John Brooks in front of the net that Guzan somehow managed to block and preserve the victory.