DETROIT – Clint Dempsey slid across the grass and redirected Jozy Altidore's cross into the net. At the other end, Tim Howard smothered one shot, then recovered in time to block another from point-blank range.
Back among regional rivals, the Americans were very much in their element on Tuesday night, opening their Gold Cup schedule with a 2-0 win over Canada. The United States was routed by Spain in an exhibition game last weekend, but all along, the focus has been on this tournament, which determines the champion of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"Coming off the game against Spain, obviously, you got down a little bit," Altidore said. "Now, we've just got to build on it, because it's only going to get harder from here."
Altidore scored in the 15th minute and set up Dempsey's goal in the 62nd. The Americans have never lost a group stage game at the Gold Cup.
The U.S. pressured Canada from the start. The 21-year-old Altidore, playing his first game at a Gold Cup, scored after running onto a long pass from Landon Donovan. Although Kevin McKenna was back to defend, Altidore was able to turn and take a low shot from a tough angle to the right of the goal. The ball slipped under goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld and into the net.
There was little Hirschfeld could do about the second goal. Altidore sent a low cross from to the right of the net, and Dempsey was able to knock the ball in while sliding across the ground near the far post. American Juan Agudelo was credited with an assist for deflecting the ball on its way to Dempsey, but it was Altidore who set up the play. He was named man of the match.
"For confidence, it was a good thing," coach Bob Bradley said. "The movement that led to the first goal and the cross to Dempsey for the second both were great plays."
Howard was impressive as well in goal, reacting marvelously to deflect Ali Gerba's powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area with his right hand in the 70th minute. About 15 minutes later, Howard smothered a shot near the edge of the 6-yard box, then made another terrific stop on a volley by Gerba.
He finished with four saves.
"Howard was absolute magic," Canadian coach Stephen Hart said. "I almost clapped."
The Americans didn't field their best lineup in their 4-0 loss to Spain, putting more emphasis on the Gold Cup. The tournament champion receives a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup, an important World Cup tuneup.
Against Canada, Michael Bradley created an early scoring chance off a corner kick, shooting from near the top of the penalty area, but U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra redirected the ball wide.
Altidore put the Americans ahead soon after that, then ran to the corner flag and kicked at it in celebration.
"We feel that it's a good combination," Bob Bradley said. "As we've gone through training, we feel like the balance between the two is good."
After looking overmatched against Spain's smooth passing, the Americans didn't allow Canada any good chances inside the penalty area until Simeon Jackson dribbled past Ream and Bocanegra in the 57th minute. Ream was able to recover in time to prevent Jackson from getting a shot through to the goal.
Dempsey nearly made a spectacular play at the other end in the second half, back-heeling the ball while diving forward horizontally after Hirschfeld deflected a cross. The ball went out of bounds for a corner kick.
"I don't know what you would call that," Dempsey said. "Maybe a squirrel kick."
Dempsey's goal came not too long after that, and the Americans held on.
Notes: Freddy Adu was not one of the 18 active players for the U.S. ... Michael Bradley received a yellow card in the 51st minute when he tangled with Canada's Dwayne De Rosario as the Canadians were trying to set up a free kick. William Johnson of Canada was booked the following minute when he fouled Jermaine Jones from behind while the American was making a nice run through the midfield. ... Attendance was announced at 28,209. Toward the end of the first half, an American fan club behind one of the goals began chanting "We can't hear you!" at a smaller group of Canadian fans at the opposite end. ... There were visible marks on the temporary grass surface at Ford Field by the end of Tuesday's doubleheader, which included two Group C matches. The other was between Panama and Guadeloupe. Bradley was hopeful more progress can be made with playing surfaces at indoor facilities like this one. "Hopefully there's technology, there's better ways to do it, because it's tough on the players," he said.