Gyasi Zardes' goal pushes the USMNT past Qatar and into Concacaf Gold Cup final

·4 min read

AUSTIN, Texas — Gyasi Zardes saved the day for the red, white and blue in front of a Q2 Stadium crowd thirsting for a goal, and a positive result.

After looking offensively challenged for most of the first 85 minutes of action, it was a pair of substitutes that helped the U.S. men’s national team advance past Qatar on Thursday night and set up a Gold Cup final date with Mexico.

Zardes and Nicholas Giocchini began the night on the bench. The duo ended the night as heroes. Giochinni created some space on the left side of the Qatar box before scooting a pass over to Zardes, who toe-poked it into the net to give the USMNT a lead in the 86th minute. The shot was only the United States’ fifth of the match, and only the second on target.

"That is two games in a row that Zardes has made an impact off of the bench. He's the ultimate team player," USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. "We wanted to test (Darryl) Dike to show us what he's got."

USMNT TO RETURN TO AUSTIN: Q2 Stadium to host World Cup qualifier against Jamaica

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The best chance of the first 60 minutes of action came after VAR awarded Qatar a penalty kick after what was deemed a foul by USMNT center back James Sands. Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos stepped up to the penalty spot and promptly chipped a ball over the crossbar to keep the match scoreless. The only attempt for the United States early in the second half came on a close-range poke by Darryl Dike off of a cross by Matthew Hoppe, but it was blocked at point-blank range by Qatar goal keeper Meshaal Barsham.

The two teams played to a tight first-half draw. The United States dominated possession with 61 percent of the ball through the first 45 minutes. It was Qatar, however, that made the most of its opportunities with 10 shots compared to just two by the USMNT. Of those shots, Qatar put five on target compared to only one for the red, white and blue. Darryl Dike struggled as the center forward and he was replaced after 62 minutes by Zardes.

"I'm proud of our guys for winning and performing in the second half," Berhalter said. "We've got a resilient group, and they battled back. It shows a lot abut the character of this team."

Gyasi Zardes acknowledges fans after the USMNT's victory over Qatar in a Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal at Q2 Stadium.
Gyasi Zardes acknowledges fans after the USMNT's victory over Qatar in a Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal at Q2 Stadium.

Man of the match – Matt Turner

The USMNT goalkeeper kept his squad in the match early as Qatar peppered his goal following silly mistakes from the United States back line. Turner, who was inexperienced at the international level entering the Gold Cup, was stellar in the first half with two saves.

"Coming into the tournament, we knew Matt was a great shot stopper and we wanted to see that at the international level. He's a gamer. He plays with an impressive amount of poise," Berhalter said. "He bailed us out in the first half with two good saves and he was our man of the match."

Turner, who plays in MLS for the New England Revolution, added his name to the list of potential starters for the USMNT as World Cup qualifying approaches. He’s only allowed one goal in the entire Gold Cup, which is the lowest in the tournament. His stock continues to rise and he’ll likely be playing goalie for a European side come 2022.

Jul 29, 2021; Austin, Texas, USA; Qatar forward Akram Afif (11) falls to the ground as United States defender Miles Robinson (12) dribbles past in the first half of a Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal soccer match at Q2 Stadium.
Jul 29, 2021; Austin, Texas, USA; Qatar forward Akram Afif (11) falls to the ground as United States defender Miles Robinson (12) dribbles past in the first half of a Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal soccer match at Q2 Stadium.

Up next: vs. Mexico in Gold Cup Final, Sunday in La Vegas, Nev.

The win over Qatar advanced the USMNT to the final of the Gold Cup in search of its seventh title in competition history. The final is the second of the summer for the USMNT with a different group under Berhalter beating Mexico in thrilling fashion to take home the Nations League championship. The USMNT beat Canada in the group stage.

"We're not done (in the Gold Cup) and that was my message to the team after the match," Berhalter said. "It is nice to get to the final, but we want to win. This group is going to dig and it is going to fight."

After the conclusion of the Gold Cup, attention turns to World Cup qualifying. The United States will take part in a newly formatted Octagonal with seven other countries. The teams will play a double-round robin format with the top three teams advancing to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place squad heads to the intercontinental playoff. The USMNT will play seven countries once at home and once on the road. The competition begins Sept. 2 vs. El Salvador. The USMNT is back in Austin on Oct. 7 for a qualifying match against Jamaica.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: USMNT defeats Qatar, reaches Concacaf Gold Cup final in Las Vegas

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