EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Cutting things close is becoming an art for the U.S. soccer team. Outplayed for most of the first half and playing the final 30 minutes without their coach, the Americans scored twice in the final seven minutes to beat Honduras 2-1 on Thursday night in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
Goals by John O'Brien and Oguchi Onyewu lifted the host Americans into the tournament final for the championship of soccer's North and Central American region on Sunday against Panama, which outlasted Colombia 3-2.
Seven of the Americans' 11 goals in the Gold Cup have come after the 80th minute.
``That's been the theme for this tournament,'' goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. ``We've been leaving things a little late.''
You think? The Americans appeared lost until Onyewu's long feed into the penalty area hit Landon Donovan and then was cleared by Honduran defender Erick Vallecilo _ directly to O'Brien. He buried it in the 86th minute.
The United States had been applying pressure throughout the second half, especially after coach Bruce Arena was ejected in the 59th for protesting a foul too vehemently. With the score tied, Arena, watching on television in the locker room, told those around him there was still time for another goal.
He was right. Donovan's 30-yard free kick was headed in by Onyewu, a 6-foot-2 defender who beat goalkeeper Junior Morales from 4 yards for his first goal in eight games with the national team.
``We've been getting opportunities on free kicks and corner kicks all game, and I missed one barely in the first half, but we kept on knocking on the door,'' Onyewu said. ``I think we were bound to get a good opportunity. I don't think anyone expected it to be in the last minute of the game, but thankfully it happened.''
Donovan felt it was inevitable because the team never gives up, not even when nearly all of the 41,721 fans at Giants Stadium are rooting for Honduras. Although the United States appeared headed to its first home loss against a regional rival since Honduras won a World Cup qualifier 3-2 at Washington in September 2001, he never lost faith.
``A lot of teams don't keep fighting there,'' said Donovan, whose free kick created the game-winner. ``A lot of teams kind of throw the towel in and say that's it.''
The U.S. team, ranked sixth in the world, also has used late goals in recent World Cup qualifiers with Jamaica and Panama to grab points.
``A couple of important goals _ scored at important times,'' O'Brien said.
Arena departed when Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast gave him a red card, although Arena said after the game he thought the fourth official, Carlos Batres of Guatemala, ordered the ejection.
``I firmly believe when reasonable people get together, they're going to realize that was a mistake,'' Arena said. ``I don't think there was anything wrong with what I did.''
Arena is suspended for Sunday's final. He and Prendergast got into a screaming match following a World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica on July 23, 2000, causing FIFA to suspend Arena for three games, a penalty later reduced to two games.
Honduras, ranked 39th but already out of the running for next year's World Cup, went ahead in the 30th minute when Mario Ivan Guerrero beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller from 20 yards off a cross from Milton Nunez after U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk made a bad pass.
The Central Americans got too conservative in the second half, though, and it cost them.
``You have to keep attacking against the United States, take advantage of your opportunities,'' Honduras coach Jose De La Paz said. ``Their persistence enables them to come back and win games in the last minutes.''
The United States beat Panama 3-0 on the road in World Cup qualifying last month. Sunday's match will be the fourth in 10 1/2 months between the teams. Panama is ranked 83rd.
``Playing the United States can only help Panama's football,'' coach Jose Hernandez said. ``It is a pleasure to play against them and learn against them. We faced them in World Cup qualifiers and lost twice, but we will hope for the best on Sunday.''
Panama's first goal, in the 12th minute, came off a free kick by Julio Medina that was backheaded home by Ricardo Phillips. Fourteen minutes later, Luis Moreno made a brilliant run through two defenders on the right side and fed Jorge Luis Valdes for a left-footed volley.
Although Colombia broke through in the 63rd on Jairo Patino's right-footed shot off an excellent setup by Tressor Moreno, Panama went up 3-2 10 minutes later with Phillips' second goal. Phillips finished off a half-field break with Luis Tejada by sending a precise shot inside the far goalpost.
Patino scored in the 89th minute and Colombia also hit the post in a final push to tie it.