The Pacific Northwest put its mark on a breakthrough victory by the United States national team Thursday.
The USA advanced to the semifinals of Copa America Centenario with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador, the 12th-ranked team in the world.
Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey figured in both goals — scoring the first and assisting the second.
“Clint is special,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He showed that tonight, he showed that the last couple of weeks, he showed that his entire career. … Tonight from him was unbelievable — and in front of his home crowd. He’s special, and he deserves every compliment.”
The whole thing played out before the sights and sounds of 47,322 chanting, singing, stars-and-stripes-wearing fans at CenturyLink Field.
“The crowd is like the backbone of the team, that’s what I always say,” Gyasi Zardes said. “The American Outlaws here today, you can feel the atmosphere rocking. They were just behind us the whole way.”
Dempsey put the USA ahead in the 22nd minute. The play began with Bobby Wood near the end line tapping the ball back to Jermaine Jones just outside the penalty area. Jones launched it across the box to head of Dempsey, who finished between two defenders near the penalty spot. It was his 52nd national-team goal, second in U.S. history.
“Just happy to be performing well for the country,” Dempsey said. “It’s always what you dreamed about as a kid.”
The game’s pace shifted in the 52nd minute, when red cards were issued to one player from each team. The incident began with Ecuador’s Antonia Valencia tripping Alejandro Bedoya on a run down the left side. Jermaine Jones and players from both teams clustered, with some pushing. Valencia was shown his second yellow card while Jones saw a straight red, which set up a 10-on-10 stretch run.
The USA doubled its lead in the 65th minute, this time with Dempsey sending a shot — maybe a pass, but probably a shot — across the goal, where Zardes nudged it in at the far post.
“There was a defender right there, so I didn’t want to take a chance,” Zardes said. “So I had to bury it to make sure. Plus, it’s that striker mentality. If the ball’s there you’ve got to take it.”
Ecuador cut it to 2-1 again in the 74th minute, with Michael Arroyo firing a bolt from the top of the penalty area. And they swarmed the attacking end most of the way to the final whistle, with several chances just failing to reach their target.
“This team is leading World Cup qualifying in South America,” Klinsmann said. “So it was not by accident that they got us into big difficulties the last 15 or 20 minutes, because this is one of the top teams in the world. But our program is maturing. … They are learning with every game we can play in this type of an environment.”
An even bigger environment awaits. The result sends the USA on to the quarterfinals and a Tuesday match against the Argentina-Venezuela winner. After that, there will be one more game: either for third place or in the Copa America final.
Jones will miss the next match because of the red card. So will Wood and Bedoya due to yellow card accumulation. However, Seattle native DeAndre Yedlin will return after being suspended Thursday.
“We take it the way it comes along,” Klinsmann said. “We don’t need to talk Argentina any bigger than they are. … We’ll give everything we have with all the respect to the opponent. … We come so far now, and now we get even hungrier for the next step.”