PHILADELPHIA — Christian Pulisic and the United States are headed to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals after an underwhelming performance against Curacao.
The U.S. was outplayed during the second half by the world’s 79th-ranked national team but managed to advance with a 1-0 win Sunday night behind Weston McKennie’s goal in the 25th minute.
The defending champion U.S. extended its Gold Cup winning streak to nine and will play Jamaica on Wednesday at Nashville, Tennessee, in the second semifinal, a night after Mexico faces Haiti at Glendale, Arizona. The U.S. reached the semifinals for the 10th straight Gold Cup and 14th in 15 overall.
"When you get to the knockout stages, everyone wants to move on to the next round and they’re giving absolutely everything," Pulisic said. "Curacao 100 per cent wanted that — you could see that in the way they played."
Pulisic, the Americans’ star midfielder, captained the U.S. for the second time and fed fellow 20-year-old McKennie for the goal. Pulisic cut in from a flank and crossed, and McKennie headed in the ball from 4 yards for his second goal in 12 international appearances.
"That’s one of my strengths, running into the box late," McKennie said. "I always tell him to look for me. He knows to look for me. That’s a little something we work on together."
Playing near his hometown of Hershey, Pulisic shot just wide in the second minute and was denied in the fourth when goalkeeper Eloy Room, while falling to his left, reached to his right to tip his shot over the crossbar.
"I wanted to lead the team from the start," Pulisic said. "In the end, we needed to finish more chances to make it much easier on ourselves."
Curacao had 60 per cent possession in the second half and outshot the U.S. 15-10 overall. American goalkeeper Zack Steffen, a native of suburban Philadelphia, made a leaping save on Leandro Bacuna in the 84th minute.
The 30th-ranked Americans have outscored opponents 12-0 in the tournament, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean, and have held opponents scoreless for 405 minutes overall.
Gregg Berhalter, hired as U.S. coach in December, said it was a tactical decision to fall back and not press in the second half, which allowed Curacao to control possession.
"When you look at these quarterfinal matches, they’re all tight matches," Berhalter told reporters. "You guys wanted us to go out there and beat them 5-0. But we knew it was going to be a difficult game."
This will be the third straight Gold Cup in which the U.S. and Jamaica meet in the knockout stage. The Reggae Boyz upset the U.S. in the 2015 semifinals, and the Americans defeated Jamaica in the 2017 final.
Berhalter returned to the same starting lineup he used for the initial group stage matches against Guyana and then Trinidad and Tobago. With the U.S. assured of advancing, Berhalter changed all 11 starters against Panama for the group stage finale.
Berhalter has had nine different captains in 10 games. Pulisic’s only previous game as captain was in a 1-0 exhibition defeat to Italy last Nov. 20 under interim coach Dave Sarachan.
"It was something that he readily accepted," Berhalter said. "He’s a guy that despite getting fatigued in the game, he didn’t stop working."