On Sunday, Clint Dempsey, father of Elysia and Jackson, rejoined the U.S. national soccer team at sold-out RFK Stadium and celebrated Father’s Day with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Dempsey scored the second goal, an 80th-minute clincher that compensated for his defective performance in the group finale and helped the Americans advance to Houston for Wednesday’s semifinal against Panama, which defeated El Salvador, 5-3, on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw.
A day earlier, it was about his sisters — toasting one and remembering another.
U.S. Coach Bob Bradley had granted Dempsey and Landon Donovan permission to leave the team and attend their respective sisters’ weddings Saturday. It was an unusual arrangement, one that led the U.S. Soccer Federation to arrange private flights for transportation to Washington.
For Dempsey, the need to return home after Tuesday’s victory over Guadeloupe was particularly poignant. Another sister, Jennifer, had died at age 16 of a brain aneurysm in 1995. On Saturday the family gathered in Nacogdoches, Tex., to celebrate Crystal’s nuptials. After the ceremony, they visited Jennifer’s grave. Crystal placed the bouquet at the headstone.
At the reception, Clint, 28, spent time with brothers and cousins, uncles and aunts, before heading to the airport for an 11 p.m. flight that arrived in Washington around 2 a.m.
“I’m going to make sure I’m there for her on that day. My family sacrificed a lot for me,” said Dempsey, recounting the six-hour round trips for youth soccer events in Dallas. “It was a special moment.”
The ceremony and travel were a “blur,” he said, but by playing well Sunday, “I wanted to pay back the U.S. team for letting me go and not let the travel be an excuse and rather be motivation.”
Donovan had a longer journey, leaving his twin sister Tristan’s wedding in California to reach Washington by 7 a.m. Sunday. He began the match on the bench — the first time that has happened in his U.S. career since 2007 — before entering midway through the second half.
“I knew how important those days were for them,” Bradley said of the decision to grant time off.
With Dempsey lively and engaged in the first half, the Americans grabbed hold of the match and, with few interruptions, dictated play. The midfield — anchored by Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley and boosted by new starters Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan — was fully synchronized. Outside backs Steve Cherundolo and Eric Lichaj added to the attack with timely overlapping runs.
“We moved the ball well, something we’ve done for periods throughout the tournament, but we did it for 90 minutes today,” defender Clarence Goodson said.
Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was a formidable obstacle, making several fine saves, including a pair of leaping touches on Dempsey bids.
Jamaica’s pace caused trouble in the early moments, but Tim Howard made a kick save on Ryan Johnson’s clear bid. “It seemed such a clear offside but it wasn’t,” Howard said. “We didn’t pay the price for it, but it woke us up. It might’ve been a long day for us if they had kept opening us up like that.”
Four minutes after halftime, the United States went ahead on Jones’s deflected volley. Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor headed Lichaj’s cross into the path of Jones, who smashed a 25-yarder. Ricketts was diving into position, but Taylor instinctively stuck out his right foot, inadvertently redirecting it past his crestfallen keeper.
Jones, son of an American serviceman stationed in Germany, spoke of his dad after scoring his first U.S. goal. “I’m very proud to give my father on Father’s Day a nice little gift,” he said in a statement translated from German by Cherundolo, a longtime Bundesliga-based defender. “He was a soldier, and so it was a nice sign of respect for my father.”
In the 67th minute, the match took another turn in the U.S. team’s favor. On a promising counterattack, Jones began to break away from Taylor in midfield. There didn’t appear to be much contact, but realizing his touch was too heavy to maintain control, Jones tumbled in dramatic fashion. Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez bought it, showing a red card to Taylor.
Despite the U.S. dominance, the outcome remained in the balance until Juan Agudelo, a 12th-minute replacement for injured striker Jozy Altidore, crossed to Dempsey for a clever maneuver around Ricketts and a simple finish.
“We were able, from the start, to establish control,” Bob Bradley said after the U.S. team extended its unbeaten streak against Jamaica to 18 (10-0-8). “Ultimately, it took a while to get the goal but . . . I thought we did an excellent job.”