- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HOUSTON — Clint Dempsey struck again to give the United States a 1-0 win over Panama and a place in its fourth straight Gold Cup final.

Fulham forward Dempsey scored in the 77th minute, set up by Landon Donovan, as the Americans avenged a shock loss to Panama in the group stage, and set up a final against Mexico, which beat Honduras 2-0 in the other semifinal later Wednesday.

The United States has not conceded a goal in the three games since the surprise group loss to to Panama, which was its first ever win over the Americans and inflicted the United States’ first ever loss in the group stage of a Gold Cup.

Dempsey, who also scored in the Americans’ 2-0 win over Jamaica in the quarterfinals, said the team proved its resolve in the hard-fought rematch.

“We showed our quality in being able to grind out a result even though it wasn’t our best game,” Dempsey said.

Freddy Adu made a long-awaited return to the American team in the second half, and set up the winning goal with a long, slanting pass to Donovan, who threaded a pass through the Panama defense to Dempsey who slid in to knock the ball into the corner of the net.

“It was a great ball from Freddy to open up Landon,” Dempsey said. “All I had to do was put my foot on it.”

Donovan began on the bench for the second straight game, and joined the action in the second half to play his 27th straight Gold Cup match, extending the record he already held.

Panama lost to the Americans in the knockout stage for the fourth straight time. Coach Julio Dely Valdes said his team surprised the Americans in their match 11 days ago, and the U.S. was more focused this time.

“It was a very intense game, very few chances for both teams,” Dely Valdes said. “I’m pleased with my team’s performance, they fought until the very end.”

Both teams were missing top players in the semifinal. Panama forward Blas Perez was sent off in the 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 had scored two of the Americans’ six goals in the tournament.

Adu, the one-time teenage phenomenon who turned 22 last month, drew cheers when he trotted onto the field in the 66th minute. His career has never taken off as anticipated, and he has bounced around a few clubs on loan deals from Portugese giants Benfica. He was playing with Caykur Rizespor in the Turkish second tier when he got the call to join the American squad.

Adu struggled early in training for the tournament, but coach Bob Bradley said he steadily regained his form.

“From the start of this camp, Freddy’s made progress,” Bradley said. “The opportunity (Wednesday) was earned on his part. You could see him getting sharper, his confidence coming back. He was a nice part of the play that led to the goal. It’s important for him, he earned this opportunity and everybody on this team feels good about that.”

Dely Valdes was encouraged that his team pushed the Americans throughout.

“The gap between the great teams and the up-and-comers has shrunk significantly,” he said. “Panama showed a very competitive level.”

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