Clint Dempsey was the man of the moment for the U.S. in its 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the Copa America quarterfinals Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

Clint Dempsey was the man of the moment for the U.S. in its 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the Copa America quarterfinals Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

Sounders’ Dempsey fires the U.S. to Copa America semis

STARTING LINEUPS

USA (4-4-2): Guzan; Johnson, Besler, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley (c), Jones, Bedoya, Zardes; Dempsey, Wood.

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Dominguez; Erazo, Mina, Paredes, Ayovi (c); Noboa, Gruzeo; A. Valencia, Arroyo, Montero; E. Valencia.

TALKING POINTS

Talk about storybook. Clint Dempsey, the pride of the Seattle Sounders, scored and set up the goals at CenturyLink Field that gave the U.S. a 2-1 victory over Ecuador and sent the U.S. into the semifinals of Copa America.

Dempsey’s 22nd-minute header, following a strong run by Bobby Wood and a perfectly-chipped cross from Jermaine Jones, put the U.S. up 1-0. He then set up Gyasi Zardes in the 65th minute, latching onto Zardes’ knockdown of Matt Besler’s cross, then slotting a ball that was headed into the far corner before Zardes got the final touch. Quite the homecoming for the Sounders star.

“Clint is special,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He showed that tonight, he showed it last week, he’s showed it his throughout entire career. … His performance tonight was unbelievable. I’m so proud. He’s special and he deserves every compliment.”

The victory means the U.S. has the opportunity for its best-ever finish at Copa America. In its previous three appearances the best the U.S. has done is finish fourth in 1995. The Americans face the winner between Argentina and Venezuela, who play Saturday, in the semifinals on Tuesday in Houston.

It was an intense and contentious affair that was something of a story of two halves. The U.S. was the better team in the first half and deserved its 1-0 halftime lead. Zardes made it 2-0 midway through the second half, but Ecuador was the better team in the second half and got one back through Michael Arroyo’s low drive from the edge of the penalty box in the 74th minute. Ecuador then piled on the pressure the rest of the way.

The game’s most contentious moment came six minutes into the second half and resulted in a double sending off. Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia kicked the legs out from under Alejandro Bedoya, earning his second yellow card of the game and an ejection. However, in the aftermath of the foul, Jones barely brushed Arroyo’s face. Jones was shown a straight red card, which Klinsmann described as an “absolute joke” and a “disgrace.”

The teams played the rest of the game 10-on-10 and Ecuador found joy with the extra space, but could only find the one goal.

There was one troubling development for the U.S. Jones’ red card means he’ll be suspended for the semifinal. In addition Wood and Bedoya, who were sitting on yellow cards, picked up yellows Thursday and will also have to sit for the semi. The U.S. has played a consistent lineup throughout the tournament, so despite the fact DeAndre Yedlin will be returning from suspension the U.S. is going to have to significantly shuffle the deck for the semifinal.

TURNING POINT

Less than three minutes after Ecuador scored it had a tremendous opportunity to tie it, with Enner Valencia being presented a free header. But Valencia somehow managed to put his header wide when he had plenty of net to aim for.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Dempsey. His goal and assist proved two be the difference, but he was lively throughout his 75 minutes on the field, particularly in the first half when he nearly scored a second and had a beautiful touch pass to set up a Bedoya chance that was saved.

GAME STATS

USA 2, Ecuador 1

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