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Veterans Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley leading Team USA into Gold Cup quarterfinals

Veterans Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley lead Team USA into Baltimore for the Gold Cup quarterfinals.

The last appearance by the U.S. men's soccer national team in Baltimore for the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinals was supposed to represent the beginning of a roster shift under coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

The team was becoming more multicultural — and seemingly much younger.

Though the changes continued through last summer's World Cup with the notable snub of Landon Donovan, the team's all-time leading scorer, the preliminary round run to M&T Bank Stadium for Saturday's CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal knockout game against Cuba has been fueled mostly by the old guard.

Clint Dempsey, the 32-year-old Texan who has replaced Donovan as the team's top striker, scored all three goals in the team's first two games, narrow victories over Honduras (2-1) and Haiti (1-0).

Michael Bradley, who assumed the captain's armband for the start of the Gold Cup after Dempsey was removed from the role by Klinsmann following a controversial red card while playing for his MLS team in the U.S. Open Cup, scored the tying goal in a 1-1 draw Monday against Panama.

Bradley, who like Dempsey has made more than 100 appearances for the national team, said Thursday that it doesn't matter who provides the firepower for a team looking to win its second straight Gold Cup and advance to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

"This is a team, a group, that is together in every way, so at the end of it, whoever steps on the field on a given night, whoever plays well, whoever scores, these kinds of things are not important," Bradley, 27, said prior to the team's Thursday workout at UMBC.

"You know that over the course of three weeks with as many games that you play in terms of how quickly the turnaround is, you know you're going to need everybody and everybody has to be ready. To get ourselves to a final and to be lifting that trophy, we're going to be needing everyone more."

Brad Guzan, who is approaching 31 and has taken over from a semi-retired Tim Howard as the team's No. 1 goalkeeper, said earlier this week that having players such as Bradley and Dempsey is as important for setting the proper mindset for their younger teammates as executing the team's set pieces.

"These are not going to be the prettiest of soccer games and sometimes you're going to need players like Michael and Clint to help some of the younger guys understand what these games are about and how, when the game is not going well, how to go in and find a way to win the game," Guzan said.

Aron Johannsson, the 24-year-old striker who is one of the team's rising stars, said that just seeing players such as Dempsey, Bradley, Guzan and 33-year-old midfielder Kyle Beckerman (Arundel) on the practice field "obviously gives us a huge boost, the older players have all this experience on the international level."

After a disappointing performance against Panama in Kansas City, Klinsmann saw a need to add more experience when he convinced another 33-year-old, DaMarcus Beasley, to rejoin the national team. Beasley was the captain of the winning 2013 Gold Cup team and has played in four World Cups.

Prior to the start of the tournament, there were 17 players on the 23-man U.S. roster who had helped the U.S. reach the knockout stage of last summer's World Cup. That number didn't change with the addition of Beasley and the removal of less-than-fit striker Jozy Altidore, though Klinsmann had talked before the Gold Cup about how important veterans are to his team.

"Going into a Gold Cup, especially in our region here, experience means a lot," Klinsmann said in a release on the team's website. "You need players that stay calm in very emotional and very difficult and very tough battles. It can get nasty, things might not go your way in some moments, so you have to stay cool and you have to always be on top of things."

Klinsmann, who was not available to the media Thursday, said the veteran players "bring the experience with them to stay calm and get the job done. The Gold Cup really is about getting the job done and winning it and qualifying us for the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017. That's why it's really crucial for us to have players on the roster that have tremendous experience."

Still, the U.S. team is going to need more than its experienced players to make what is expected to be another run at a Gold Cup trophy a week from Sunday in Philadelphia. Klinsmann is also counting on players such as 23-year-old striker and midfielder Gyasi Zardes as well as 22-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin to give the Americans a boost in Baltimore.

"Obviously the younger guys will always bring energy, enthusiasm and excitement that is very important for the group," Bradley said Thursday. "I think one of the things this team has always been able to draw on is this spirit, this talent, this togetherness that really drags us through tough times and allows us to win on a lot of days."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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