CONCACAF Gold Cup

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El Salvador players face bans after biting USMNT’s Altidore, Gonzalez

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While the USMNT booked its place into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night, the team’s quarterfinal opponent was punished for the actions of some of its players.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica ]

The U.S. knocked off El Salvador, 2-0, on Wednesday night, but it was the malice committed by the losers that proved to be so disappointing to watch.

Americans Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez were each bit by El Salvadoran players during the match, with both incidents going unnoticed during live action by the referees.

Henry Romero was given a six-match international ban, while Darwin Ceren of the San Jose Earthquakes was handed a three-match suspension for his role.

According to CONCACAF, the duo will only have to sit out “official matches,” and with El Salvador out of the running for qualification into next summer’s World Cup, the Central Americans will have some down time.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Costa Rica

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For the first time since 2013, the USMNT will have the opportunity to lay it all on the line in an attempt to hoist the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica in Gold Cup semis ]

This summer’s competition has been a unique one for manager Bruce Arena and his side, with a large host of players seeing time in the tournament as the second-term boss looks to establish his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s semifinal victory ]

Arena and Co. made its move into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night after disposing of Costa Rica behind a pair of second-half finishes from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The U.S. will now move on to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday night’s finale, but first, here’s a look at three takeaways from the Stars and Stripes’ victory on Saturday.

Dempsey continues as lead contributor in U.S. attack

Outside of Christian Pulisic, who wasn’t selected for this month’s Gold Cup, there isn’t a more consistent and threatening goalscorer than Clint Dempsey for the USMNT.

The Seattle Sounders veteran was directly involved in both goals last night, with the second — a finish of his own — putting Dempsey on level terms as U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer with Landon Donovan.

Albeit at 34 years of age and likely on the back nine of his career, Dempsey has proven time and time again just how critical his usage and production can be for the Stars and Stripes. Even if Dempsey doesn’t see as much time moving forward with the likes of Pulisic earning starting minutes, the Texas-native is more than deserving of a rotational role within the squad.

Altidore still proving his worth up front

Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for the U.S. on Saturday night, and it was his brilliant, probing run through the Costa Rica backline that freed himself up for Dempsey to pick out his long-time compatriot inside the Ticos area.

The Toronto FC striker has always been scrutinized on the international level, despite being one of the national team’s go-to threats in the attacking third.

Although Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer each displayed well during the group stage of the competition, Altidore is the veteran of the group. He’s played at two World Cups and is currently the team’s second active leading scorer all-time, only trailing Dempsey.

Mexico may be only true threat to USMNT

Assuming Mexico is able to dispatch of Jamaica on Sunday and reach another Gold Cup final, it’s difficult to imagine a situation more perfect than a USA-Mexico conclusion. Forget the storied rivalry for a second and consider what this tournament means to both sides.

Yes, there’s a trophy on the line. However, this edition of the Gold Cup is way more important to both programs’ long-term growth, most notably next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mexico didn’t bring any of its regulars to this tournament, after many had played the month prior at the FIFA Confederations Cup, but even El Tri’s backups have held up well against their CONCACAF competition.

El Tri has allowed just one goal in four matches thus far, and Jamaica’s attack hasn’t exactly proven to be an offensive juggernaut, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if Mexico does set up a date with the U.S.

Arena: We “made it difficult on ourselves” against Nicaragua

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Very rarely does a goalkeeper stop one penalty kick during a match, let alone two during that very same match.

[ MORE: Three things from the USMNT’s victory over Nicaragua ]

That was exactly what Nicaragua keeper Justo Lorente managed to do on Saturday night though during the team’s 3-0 defeat against the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[ MORE: Pair of penalty misses nearly costs USMNT top spot in group ]

Despite the overwhelming result in favor of the USMNT, manager Bruce Arena recognized how “difficult” his side made it on themselves against their Central American foe.

“I would think that you could say we wasted some opportunities, and made it pretty difficult on ourselves,” Arena said. “However, in the end I’m pretty proud of our team that they kept battling, and they knew that they needed three goals in the game today and they managed to do it in the end.

“Give the goalkeeper for Nicaragua credit, two penalty kick saves isn’t bad in a game. Give them credit there, we didn’t do well with our [spot] kicks. At the end of the day we still came out on top, and I’m pleased with that.”

Dom Dwyer and Joe Corona each had their spot-kick attempts saved by Lorente in the second stanza, however, the latter had opened the scoring for the USMNT in the 36th minute.

From there, Kelyn Rowe and Matt Miazga each tallied their first international goals for the Stars and Stripes after halftime, giving the U.S. a more comfortable lead.

Arena cited a better second-half performance from his side that proved to be the difference in closing out the win.

“I don’t really think we played particularly well in the first half,” Arena said. “Certainly we could have had a couple of goals. We didn’t look sharp. The field played a little slow, it was dry, but that’s not an excuse.

“I thought they played well. But we didn’t do a good job passing the ball. We didn’t do a good job with our width. I think that improved in the second half.”

Mexico not expected to make any changes before quarterfinals

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While the U.S. Men’s National Team is poised to bring in several of its big guns prior to the Gold Cup quarterfinals, Mexico won’t be doing the same.

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said in a news conference prior to the team’s group stage finale on Sunday against Curacao that he is content with his current selection of players.

“I think this group deserves the opportunity to continue [in the Gold Cup] and experience this tournament and the great responsibility that representing Mexico is,” said Osorio.

Mexico currently sits atop Group C on four points with one match remaining, and El Tri have already booked a place in the next round based on finalized scenarios from Groups A and B.

“[I feel] happy, very optimistic about the group,” said Osorio. “We’re continuing to consolidate a very good group of talented, young players that are the future of Mexican football. That factor, for me personally, is the most gratifying and what I enjoy most in life.”

Costa Rica books place in quarters after easing past French Guiana

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Everything was on the line for both sides entering their final group stage match, but it was Costa Rica that emerged victorious on Friday night after wasting no time in the attacking third.

[ MORE: A closer look at the Gold Cup standings ]

Los Ticos defeated French Guiana, 3-0, at Toyota Stadium behind goals from Ariel Rodriguez Araya, Rodney Wallace and David Ramirez.

The latter tallied for the Central American nation in the 83rd minute after Costa Rica began to apply more and more pressure down the stretch.

Wallace, who represents MLS side NYCFC, tacked on a second goal for the Ticos with 11 minutes remaining, after Araya had given Costa Rica the advantage after just four minutes.

With Honduras hot on the heels of both Costa Rica and Group A leader Canada, the Ticos didn’t waste any time in putting away French Guiana — who was still reeling after forfeiting its last match due to fielding an ineligible player (Florent Malouda).

The Caribbean nation went into halftime down 1-0, but things went from bad to worse for Les Yana Dòkòs when Ludovic Baal was shown a straight red card just beyond the hour mark for a rash tackle on David Guzman.

Costa Rica will reach the final eight courtesy of Friday night’s win, and Oscar Ramirez will wait to see which other team or teams advance out of Group A.