CHICAGO – Clear out some space in the trophy case down the street at federation headquarters. U.S. Soccer is going to have to find room for a fifth Gold Cup trophy.
Just one minute after entering the match as a second-half substitute, Brek Shea scored the game-winning goal on a tap-in at the back post to give the US national team a 1-0 victory against Panama in front of 57,920 fans at Soldier Field to complete an undefeated tournament campaign and extend their record winning streak to 11.
In seven Gold Cup meetings between the two countries, the US has six victories, scoring all nine of their goals in the second half. The Americans have also eliminated Panama in the past five editions of the tournament.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was suspended for the match after being dismissed in the semifinal, watched from a luxury box as his team dominated the ball but struggled to break down Panama’s resolute shape for most of the match before Shea recorded his second game-winning goal of the tournament.
Apart from Klinsmann’s enforced absence, the US made one change to the team that defeated Honduras in the semifinals, bringing Joe Corona on for Jose Francisco Torres on the left flank. Unsurprisingly, Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdes stuck with the same XI that defeated Mexico toadvance to the final.
Like the Hondurans before them, Panama attempted to negate the impact of US timekeeper Kyle Beckerman, keeping bodies around the defensive midfielder and preventing the Americans from building through the middle inwhat was a largely uneventful first half in which the sides combined for four shots and just one on goal.
Los Canaleros created the first opportunity of the match in the ninth minute, with a Gabriel Torres through ball freeing Gabriel Gomez to whip a dangerous cross to the back post that Michael Parkhurst scrambled to clear for a corner. The ensuing spot kick fell kindly to Marcos Sanchez on the edge of the area, but his shot was well over the crossbar.
In another stroke of awful luck, US midfielder Stuart Holden left the match in the 23rd minute with a right knee sprain after a collision with Darwin Quintero five minutes earlier. Mix Diskerud came on to replace the Bolton man and partner Beckerman.
Neither side forced either goalkeeper into any urgent action, however, with two blocked shots from Alejandro Bedoya the extent of the danger created by the US and Panama content to wait for a chance to punish the Americans on the counterattack. To wit, the US held 75 percent of the possession during the first 45 minutes.
Halftime brought no changes from either side, but the second half did finally produce the match’s first real flashpoint. That came in the 52nd minute when the US were up in arms about a penalty appeal that was waved off by Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar despite Landon Donovan’s cross striking Carlos Rodriguez in the arm.
Donovan nearly put the US up four minutes later as well, but he couldn’t steer DaMarcus Beasley’s cross on target at the near post.
Dely Valdes went to his bench for the first time in the 65th minute, removing Gabriel Torres, the Gold Cup joint leading scorer, for Jairo Jimenez, a decision he may have regretted after the US went ahead just fourminutes later.
The goal came through Shea, who had entered the match just a minute earlier for Corona. Bedoya’s cross from the right flank was deflected, and squibbed in behind the Panama backline where Donovan was waiting. The tournament’s best player somehow whiffed, and Shea slammed the still goal-bound ball in at the back post.
With the minutes ticking away, Dely Valdes removed midfield anchor Gomez for Rolando Blackburn in the 74th minute, and Panama set about trying to find an all-important equalizer.
Ten minutes later, Eddie Johnson had the chance to put the game away, but he skied his attempt in front of an empty net after Shea whipped in an inch-perfect inside the six-yard box.
To close out the match, the US brought on Omar Gonzalez for Bedoya in the 89th minute. And close it out they did despite a few off-the-ball incidents between the two sides in stoppage time, sealing the first tournament title for the US since 2009.