DETROIT — The U.S. national soccer team’s vast improvement over the past few days could be explained in three ways:
Coach Bob Bradley fielded his strongest lineup.
The occasion — the CONCACAF Gold Cup opener — demanded the squad’s attention.
And the opponent was Canada, not Spain.
With an enhanced performance spearheaded by Jozy Altidore, the United States recovered from a weekend embarrassment with a 2-0 victory Tuesday in the team’s tournament opener before an announced 28,209 at Ford Field.
Altidore scored in the 15th minute and set up Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 62nd as the Americans improved to 24-0-2 all-time in group play of the regional tournament and extended their unbeaten streak against Canada to 14, dating from 1985.
Their next game is Saturday in Tampa against Panama, a 3-2 victor over Guadeloupe in the evening’s first match.
“It’s a good start,” U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said. “There’s a lot to build on. We’re excited to get going.”
The objective on this night was two-fold: rebound from a 4-0 loss to World Cup champion Spain on Saturday and begin the march to what is widely expected to be a U.S.-Mexico final for the third consecutive tournament.
The Americans crackled with energy from the start, placing Canada under unrelenting duress. Central midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones set the tone with their ball-winning and distribution. Dempsey and Landon Donovan were lively and assertive, shuttling between the flanks and the heart of the attack. Altidore, 21, and Juan Agudelo, 18, were persistent threats on the front line.
“It was good for us to take the game to Canada, it was good for us to be more of an attacking threat, especially after not getting many chances in the Spain game,” Dempsey said.
When the Americans lost their edge, goalkeeper Tim Howard provided relief with two outstanding saves. “Howard was absolute magic,” Canada Coach Stephen Hart said. “I almost clapped.”
Altidore’s performance was particularly encouraging after he fell short of expectations at the World Cup last summer and played sporadically this past season for Turkish club Bursaspor.
“When you go through a stretch with your club team and not always playing regularly and not getting goals, in terms of confidence, this was very important,” Bob Bradley said.
On the first goal, Michael Bradley initiated the attack from a deep position, connecting with Donovan, who launched Altidore for a run into the right side of the box.
Canadian captain Kevin McKenna was positioned between the charging striker and the goal, but Altidore warded him off, turned quickly and struck a ferocious shot that seemed to catch goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld by surprise. Late to react, Hirschfeld was beaten to the near corner, allowing Altidore to register his 11th international goal.
Hirschfeld thwarted Agudelo twice in about a minute late in the half, diving to his left on a 15-yard shot and lunging right on a 25-yard blast.
After the break, with more players committed to the attack, Canada took the game to the Americans but failed to equalize.
Dempsey then eased U.S. anxiety. Moments after an ambitious scorpion kick was blocked deep in the box, he scored from almost the same spot with a more common technique.
Altidore set it up with a cross that Agudelo, charging through the middle, appeared to nick. Initially, Dempsey didn’t seem capable of reaching it, but with an outstretched leg, connected with a sliding effort for his 20th international goal.
Canada answered with severe pressure, but Howard foiled Ali Gerba twice: with a tip save on a rasping drive and a sensational block deep in the box.
“Right before game time, we had that eye of the tiger back,” Howard said. “We were excited about the tournament. . . . We feel good about the performance.”
Notes: Midfielders Freddy Adu and Robbie Rogers and defenders Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein were not included on the 18-man active roster. . . . Canada regular Julian de Guzman was scratched because of a calf injury.
l PANAMA 3, GUADELOUPE 2: The Panamanians nearly relinquished a three-goal lead in the last 26 minutes against the Gwada Boys, who were left with 10 players after Michael Tacalfred’s red card late in the first half.
Blas Perez and Luis Tejada scored three minutes apart in the first half, and Gabriel Gomez cushioned Panama’s lead with a penalty kick 12 minutes after halftime. But Brice Jovial scored in the 64th and 78th minutes, and Guadeloupe threatened to draw even in the closing moments.