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U.S. reaches Copa America quarterfinals, wins Group A

United States’ Clint Dempsey scores a goal past Paraguay’s Justo Villar, right, and Fabian Balbuena during the first half of a Copa America Group A soccer match Saturday in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
United States’ Clint Dempsey scores a goal past Paraguay’s Justo Villar, right, and Fabian Balbuena during the first half of a Copa America Group A soccer match Saturday in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
By Ronald Blum Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA – Protecting a lead after Clint Dempsey’s first-half goal, the United States’ Copa America planning was suddenly upended.

DeAndre Yedlin got a pair of yellow cards 57 seconds apart just into the second half for two rash tackles, forcing the U.S. to play a man short against Paraguay for what turned out to 49 fretful minutes.

Defenders held the back line, goalkeeper Brad Guzan made an outstanding double save in the 82nd minute and the U.S. held on for 1-0 victory Saturday night to reach the Copa America quarterfinals.

“We stuck today,” defender Geoff Cameron said. “Everybody sacrificed.”

Hosting a special expanded 100th anniversary edition of South America’s championship, the Americans (2-1) won Group A on goal difference over Colombia (2-1), which was upset 3-2 by already eliminated Costa Rica. By finishing first, the Americans may avoid a quarterfinal matchup with Brazil.

The U.S. plays Thursday night at Seattle, most likely against Ecuador or Peru, with the matchup to be determined by Sunday’s Group B finales.

“I think that we could possibly do something special here,” Dempsey said.

With the Americans playing for the third time in nine days, U.S. coach Klinsmann started the same lineup for the third straight game – something done only once before in U.S. national team history, in its three matches at the 1930 World Cup.

Dempsey scored for the second straight game, getting his 51st international goal in the 27th minute to move six behind Landon Donovan’s American scoring record.

Gyasi Zardes received a pass from Michael Bradley, ran down the left flank and slowed. Marked by Paulo Da Silva, who made his record 137th appearance for Paraguay, and Victor Ayala, Zardes spurted to the endline and crossed. Dempsey sprinted into the penalty area as trailing runner and from 8 yards one-timed a left-footed shot past the leg of sliding defender Fabian Balbuena and under the left arm of diving goalkeeper Justo Villar.

Yedlin got his first yellow in the 47th for a slide tackle from the side into Miguel Almiron near the center circle. When play resumed, he raised a foot and charged into Miguel Samudio near a sideline. Chilean referee Julio Bascunan immediately gave a second yellow, and the 22-year-old Yedlin lifted both arms wide as if to say, why me?

“He got caught emotionally,” Klinsmann said. “He just lost his head for a second.”

Yedlin, the first U.S. player to receive a red card in a competitive match since Michael Bradley at the 2009 Confederations Cup, walked by reporters without stopping to answer questions.

Because of goal difference, Paraguay needed to win in order to advance. Michael Orozco entered to replace Yedlin at right back in the 50th, and Dempsey came off as the U.S. prepared to survive an onslaught during the rest of the half, which included six minutes of stoppage time.

“It’s huge discipline. It’s huge workrate,” Guzan said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page. And when you play a man down in the conditions like they were tonight, for so long, for 45 minutes, it’s always going to be hard.”

With Paraguay applying pressure, Klinsmann repeatedly turned to try to spur on the crowd of 51,041.

Brooks had made a sliding tackle to knock the ball away from Almiron on a 3-on-1 break in the 11th minute, and Guzan had parried Derlis Gonzalez’s short-range, angled header in the 18th.

That was just a prelude.

Of Guzan’s seven saves, the best were in the 82nd minute, a sliding body stop on Jorge Benitez’s 4-yard shot followed by a kick save on Almiron’s 6-yard attempt off the rebound.

“You sit there biting your nails,” Dempsey said. “Certain plays, you’re wanting the ball to go out of bounds, You want people to kind of take their time and be smart how they manage the game,”

Klinsmann reveled in one of the team’s bigger wins since he took over in 2011.

“This,” he said, “is a huge statement to teams in South America or whoever watches it on TV.”

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