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Did Gyasi Zardes poach Clint Dempsey’s goal vs. Ecuador?

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It’s almost impossible to say, but we do know that it doesn’t really matter.

Copa America - United States vs. Ecuador: Photos Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Clint Dempsey saved his best performance of this Copa America for the United States’ most important. Dempsey was easily the USMNT’s best player during their 2-1 quarterfinal win over Ecuador, scoring one goal, assisting on another and nearly contributing to a couple others.

Dempsey now has three goals and three assists in four games, a solid haul, no doubt, and one that has him tied for the tournament’s Golden Boot.

But should Dempsey actually have the Golden Boot lead all to himself? Admittedly, on my first few viewings I was absolutely convinced Gyasi Zardes stole Dempsey’s second goal on Thursday. Watched live, the ball looked all the world to be going in whether or not Zardes got his boot to it. I was livid, cursing Zardes’ name in the stadium even while I was hugging and high-fiving those around me.

But upon closer inspection -- and with a cooler head — I’m not so sure. The video angle from the side suggests Dempsey’s shot was likely to hit the post. Maybe it bounces in. Maybe it stays out. Maybe Zardes puts away the rebound anyway. Maybe a defender clears it. We really have no way of knowing.

More importantly, at full speed Zardes has no way of knowing. If Zardes lets the ball run just to preserve the sanctity of the statistics, he’s committing malpractice. His job, after all, is to make sure the ball finds the back of the net, not get wrapped up in who gets credit. As long as he knows he’s onside — and he was by a good yard — he has to hit that ball even if he thinks there’s a chance it will go in anyway.

This is what goal-scorers are supposed to do, and it should be said that Dempsey has done it himself. An obvious example was back in 2012 when Dempsey effectively poached an even more likely goal from Michael Bradley during a World Cup qualifier. Dempsey was right to poach that goal — if that’s what happened — and Zardes needed to poach this one too.