HARTFORD, Conn. – Brek Shea played the hero on Tuesday night, scoring his first international goal in the 82rd minute to fuel the US national team to a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica and ensured a finish atop Group C in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Shea can thank Landon Donovan and Joe Corona for putting him in position to score, as the latter started a lighting-quick US counterattack by feeding the ball up the left flank to his streaking teammate. Donovan immediately spotted Shea alone in the center of the field, and one-timed an inch-perfect pass to the substitute’s feet that allowed the Stoke City man to take a touch and find the back of the net.
Jurgen Klinsmann made four changes to the team that disposed of Cuba, 4-1, on Saturday, including a change in goal with Sean Johnson replacing Nick Rimando. Further up the field, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud and Chris Wondolowski replaced Joe Corona, Kyle Beckerman and Herculez Gomez, respectively.
Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, meanwhile, went defensive with his XI, as Álvaro Saborío and leading scorer Michael Barrantes started the match on the bench and Los Ticos trotted out a five-man backline, a strategy which frustrated Mexico in World Cup qualifying. Portland Timbers midfielder Rodney Wallace was among Costa Rica's starting XI--his first appearance since Costa Rica beat cuba 3-0 at JELD-WEN Field in their first match of the Gold Cup.
Neither team created a clear-cut scoring opportunity in the first half, with play relegated to the flanks and chippiness between the two sides building as the break approached.
Unlike previous opponents Belize and Cuba, Costa Rica applied pressure high up the field against the Americans, forcing the US backline into hopeful balls forward that bypassed the midfield pairing of Stuart Holden and Diskerud, which had been so effective against Guatemala in the buildup to the tournament.
The second half started without any changes to either lineup, and play didn’t vary much from the first half either until a bizarre set of circumstances livened things up considerably in the 55th minute.
Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton came rushing out of his 18 to clear the ball, but collided with his own defender in the process, leaving Wondolowski an empty net. However, Pemberton used his hands to block shot, leading to vehement shouts from the US for a red card, only to see referee Courtney Campbell show yellow for the offense.
Even more frustrating for Klinsmann and his charges, Pemberton spectacularly denied Jose Torres on the ensuing free kick, rising to palm the ball out of the top corner before cleaning up Donovan’s follow up.
Pinto was first to go to his bench, replacing MLSers Roy Miller with Christopher Meneses and Wallace with Osvaldo Rodríguez, while also bringing on Saborio for Jairo Arrieta. Klinsmann answered with a dual swap in the 77th minute – Gomez for Wondolowski and Shea for Torres – then sending Corona on for Bedoya three minutes later.
Five minutes later, Pinto’s tinkering nearly paid off as Costa Rica were a brilliant Johnson save from taking the lead. Saborio rose to meet Celso Borges’ corner kick and put hit effort in the top corner, but the US ‘keeper managed to paw it away.
Seconds later, the US launched the break that decided the game, a turn of fortunes that decided Group C and seeding heading into the quarterfinal stage.
By virtue of the Americans' third win in three Gold Cup games, the US will face El Salvador in Baltimore on Sunday in the quarterfinals (1 pm PT, Fox Soccer). Costa Rica, meanwhile, will take on regional rivals Honduras on the same day, with a potential semifinal rematch with the US in the cards.