BALTIMORE (AP) — Clint Dempsey walked away with the game ball for one of the few times in his career. With his first international hat trick, he boosted the U.S. to a 6-0 rout of Cuba on Saturday and into its eighth straight CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal.
Dempsey put the Americans ahead with a fourth-minute header, converted a penalty kick in the 64th and added the final goal in the 78th.
In Wednesday's semifinal at Atlanta, the Americans will play Jamaica, which advanced by beating Haiti 1-0 Saturday.
"Habits carry over: scoring goals, getting a clean sheet, people getting assists," Dempsey said. "That confidence, definitely it grows in the team. And as the tournament goes on, people are getting stronger as a group."
Dempsey has scored a tournament-high six times, and his 47 international goals are 10 behind Landon Donovan's American record.
"I didn't know that it was his first hat trick. It took him a long time," quipped U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who never had a three-goal game in his celebrated international career for Germany.
Gyasi Zardes (15th minute), Aron Johannsson (32nd) and Omar Gonzalez (45th) also scored as the Americans built a 4-0 halftime lead against a team depleted by five absent players who may have defected. The U.S. outshot the Cubans 24-7.
"After a couple shaky performances in the group, we came out here and dominated the game," Johannsson said.
Now 32, Dempsey has played up top in recent years after being used as a withdrawn forward and a wide midfielder in the past.
"He's always been a striker mentality," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "He's a guy who is hungry and determined to make big plays, hungry and determined to score goals. And that's always been him. It doesn't really matter whether he's lined up as an out-and-out striker, as a second striker, a little bit underneath somebody else, even at times under my dad (former U.S. coach Bob Bradley) when he and Landon played tilted wide."
With its highest victory margin in the championship of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region, the U.S. improved to 8-1 in Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Left back Fabian Johnson sparked the opening goal, playing a cross that went through to the other side of the field. Zardes played the ball back to Timmy Chandler, who with his left foot lofted it 30 yards to Dempsey for an 8-yard header past goalkeeper Diosvelis Guerra.
Dempsey's penalty kick was awarded when Angel Horta pulled on Johannsson's jersey in the penalty area. Dempsey scored sliding with his right foot from 7 yards in the 78th off a pass from Bradley.
"He's hungry for goal," Klins-mann said. "So he has two more meals ahead of him."