Defending champions the United States, sparked by six goals in four matches from Clint Dempsey, enter Wednesday’s Gold Cup semi-finals confident but cautious against a defensively determined Jamaica.
The Americans, trying to match Mexico’s record with a sixth title, face the “Reggae Boyz” in the opener at the Georgia Dome followed by a 2013 semi-final rematch between Mexico and Panama in the biennial North American regional football showdown.
“I think we’re in a very good spot going to Atlanta,” US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We approach everything in its proper way and we’re very well prepared. We won’t make it easy for anybody.”
Dempsey produced his first US hat trick in a 6-0 quarter-final romp over Cuba to seize the Gold Cup scoring lead, but the 32-year-old former Fulham standout expects a tougher test from the Caribbean champions.
“The semi-final is going to be difficult. We can’t look past them,” Dempsey said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we’re sharp and doing everything we can to win.”
Klinsmann has stressed taking advantage of opportunity to Dempsey, whose 47 career goals are 10 shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time record.
“He’s hungry for goals and he has two more meals,” Klinsmann said. “Now we make sure he really enjoys the next two games. Those are the big ones. These are the ones where you really want him to score.”
The Americans hope to retain the trophy and secure a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, a World Cup warmup event in Russia.
“The confidence grows in the team as the tournament goes on,” Dempsey said. “Hopefully our best ball is yet to come.”
The US squad is 13-1 with eight drawn in the all-time rivalry with Jamaica, the lone loss coming 2-1 at Kingston in 2012 during World Cup qualifying.
But these “Reggae Boyz” were toughened by playing in last month’s Copa America and have three consecutive 1-0 Cup wins.
“We can’t get too high. There’s still a lot of work ahead of us,” US defender Omar Gonzalez said. “We have to stay focused, stay hungry and be ready for whatever is thrown at us.”
The Jamaicans have already matched their best Gold Cup showing after semi-final runs in 1993 and 1998, but the “Reggae Boyz” want more as well.
“We have a win streak. We don’t want to go down. We want more,” Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer said. “I’m proud of my team.”
German coaches clash
Schaefer was a Borussia Moenchengladbach teammate of US team advisor Berti Vogts on the first of five Bundesliga champion teams for the club. Schaefer left and was finishing his Bundesliga career as US coach Klinsmann began his.
“This is a team a little more Jurgen’s style. It’s not easy. All their players play at a high level,” Schaefer said. “Now it’s Berti Vogts and Klinsmann against me. This is difficult. We are definitely the underdog.”
Panama edged Mexico 2-1 in the 2013 Gold Cup semis but lost 1-0 to the US in the final. The Canaleros reached the last four after dispatching Trinidad and Tobago in the ninth round of penalty kicks, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo making the winning save.
“Penedo is very fast,” Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez said. “Jaime has a very high, impressive level. “He’s very good in the goal and his level of confidence is even more now.”
Mexico, also toughened by a Copa America appearance, has been beset by injuries, losing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez before the Gold Cup began. Now striker Giovani dos Santos is questionable for El Tri with an adductor injury.
“We will have to keep working on him, see how he feels,” said Mexico coach Miguel Herrera. “If he’s 100 percent, then there’s no doubt he will go in.”
Herrera’s job could be in jeopardy if Mexico cannot win a third Gold Cup in four tries. The Mexicans are 3-3 with seven drawn in a span starting with a 2-0 friendly loss at the United States in April.
“We have three days to prepare well, analyze well the opponent, break it down and have the ideal tactic to get the result,” Herrera said.