HOUSTON (AP) — Clint Dempsey scored in the 77th minute off an assist from Landon Donovan, and the United States advanced to the Gold Cup final with a 1-0 victory over Panama on Wednesday night.
The Americans will play in the biennial tournament’s championship game for the fourth straight time after avenging a 2-1 loss to Panama on June 11.
Freddy Adu made a long-awaited return to American soccer in the second half, and set up the winning play with a cross-field pass to Donovan, who played in his 27th consecutive Gold Cup match to extend his own record.
Donovan then threaded a pinpoint pass through the Panama defense to Dempsey, who slid as he redirected the ball into the low corner of the net.
The U.S. will play the winner of the later Honduras-Mexico semifinal for the championship at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
The United States defeated Panama in the knockout stage of the tournament for the fourth straight time. The Americans had never lost in the group stage of the tournament, or to Panama in international play until the shocking defeate earlier this month.
Both teams were missing top players in the rematch.
Panama forward Blas Perez earned a red card in his team’s quarterfinal win over El Salvador, and U.S. forward Jozy Altidore was ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a strained hamstring.
Altidore has scored two of the Americans’ six goals in the event. He was hurt in the ninth minute of the 2-0 victory against Jamaica on Sunday.
Tickets sold out for the semifinals doubleheader, but the stadium was only about half-full at the start of the first game.
The Americans generated the first scoring chance in the 17th minute, when Alejandro Bedoya hooked a high cross into the goal area. Dempsey redirected a header toward the goal, but Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo corraled it before Juan Agudelo could finish.
A minute later, Panama’s Luis Tejada collided with Bedoya near midfield to earn the game’s first yellow card. Tejada came into the game with three goals in Gold Cup play.
Agudelo hit the post with a diving header off a cross from Steve Cherundolo in the 25th minute. The near-miss incited swelling chants of “USA! USA!” from the partisan crowd.
Panama’s Alberto Quintero was tripped up deep in the American zone in the last minute of the first half, setting up a restart from the left side of the goal. Nelson Barahona then fired a high, hooking shot over the crossbar.
Donovan sat out the start for the second straight game in the tournament. He attended his sister’s wedding in California and rejoined the team on the morning before its 2-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday.
He started the second half on Wednesday, replacing Sacha Kljestan.
The Americans controlled possession in the opening minutes after the break, but still struggled to create good scoring chances. Eric Lichaj sent a cross in front of the Panama net, but it was too high for any of his teammates to reach and bounced out of bounds.
Panama then generated its best chance of the game to that point, when Armando Cooper sent a cross toward the U.S. goal, just out of the reach Quintero’s foot.
Adu, the one-time teen phenom who turned 22 last month, drew cheers when he trotted onto the field in the 66th minute. Adu was playing in Turkey when he got the call to rejoin the Americans’ roster for the Gold Cup.
Panama nearly took a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute, when Cooper fired a left-footed shot that U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard leaped to deflect with his left hand.
The Americans finally broke through six minutes later.
Red, white and blue streamers floated onto the field as the Americans celebrated and the crowd roared.
Adu set up another chance with about five minutes left, but Michael Bradley passed up an open shot and lost the ball.
The United States is unbeaten in 22 of its last 24 games in the Gold Cup, a tournament with 12 teams from Central and North American and the Caribbean. The Americans improved to 7-1-2 against Panama all-time.