Hours before the USWNT wheezed across the finish line against the Netherlands in Olympic knockout round play, and hours before the men would back the USWNT‘s equal pay lawsuit in an amicus brief, the USMNT also played a game of their own. The version of the USMNT contending for the Gold Cup is, of course, a B or C team, stocked with young MLS up-and-comers, a handful of the team’s lower-tier European prospects, and a few uninspiring Gregg Berhalter mainstays in the midfield. They lined up against Qatar in the semifinal last night and booked their second tournament final against Mexico in as many months through beautifully profane CONCACAF bullshit.
Qatar is a weird team, composed largely of players with, let’s say, tenuous connections to Qatar, and they’re only competing in the CONCACAF regional tournament because they’re also footing the bill. Still, they’re not a fake team or anything, and the core of the team that took the field in Austin last night is the same core that defeated traditional powers South Korea and Japan on their way to winning the 2019 Asian Cup. The U.S. had more of the ball on the evening, but the Qataris were the ones who generated the best chances, especially in the first half. If their finishing was at all competent, they would have had at least a 1–0 lead by halftime, as they regularly pressured a U.S. central defense with 11 combined caps into costly turnovers. Failing to break the deadlock wasn’t only the fault of Qatar’s finishing, though. U.S. keeper Matt Turner came up huge. He was easily the best player on the night, and made at least three tremendous saves.
However, his biggest contribution was dark magic at the game’s most pivotal moment, which was, naturally, a penalty. James Sands got caught with his leg out in the 54th minute, and after a lengthy VAR check, the referee pointed to the spot. Everything that happened after was perfect ornery bullshit. Kellyn Acosta managed to ice penalty taker Hassan Al-Haydos for minutes as he kept instigating skirmishes, standing directly behind Al-Haydos and whispering to him, and generally talking as much shit as possible to everyone he could. Turner, for his part, got in Al-Haydos’s head too. “I just tried to let the guy know I’ve been watching his penalties,” he said after the match. “Even beforehand, I mimicked his run-up as I was heading back to my goal to try to mess with him a little bit.” It all stacked up, as Al-Haydos chipped both the keeper and the entire goal frame.
Shortly after the penalty drama, the USMNT subbed on a platoon of fresh players, who all collaborated to finally put a ball in the net. Eryk Williamson set up Nicholas Gioacchini, who twisted brilliantly to make space for Gyasi Zardes to run in and smash one home.
Qatar may have had the lion’s share of the game’s best chances, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the U.S.’s significant edge in the shithousery department. The other semifinal wasn’t much different, as Mexico advanced past Canada in a game that featured a saved penalty, a 99th-minute winner (two minutes past the supposed end of stoppage time), and a healthy amount of fighting. If this upcoming U.S.-Mexico final is half as nutty as the last one, I’ll be satisfied. There’s no Confederations Cup to play for so everyone might as well get weird.