[USA-COSTA RICA] The USA finished as the only team to win all three of its group games at the 2013 Gold Cup after downing Costa Rica, 1-0, on Tuesday in East Hartford, Conn., on a goal by Brek Shea, who came on as a late sub after a dismal performance in his previous outing.
By finishing atop Group C -- a tie against the Ticos would have been enough after wins over Belize (6-1) and Cuba (4-1) -- the Americans set up a quarterfinal clash against El Salvador in Baltimore on Sunday (4 pm ET, Fox/Univision).
SHEA REBOUND. Shea's career went south after being a Jurgen Klinsmann favorite in 2011, when he appeared in each of Klinsmann’s first seven games. He didn’t even warrant a bio in U.S. Soccer’s 2013 National Team Media Guide. The 23-year-old winger made the Gold Cup roster only because of Joshua Gatt’s injury. He struggled badly against Cuba, but Klinsmann gave him another chance as a 77th-minute sub with the game tied against the Ticos and Shea hit the gamewinner five minutes later.
“I know Brek felt bad about his performance the other night, but full credit to Jurgen for giving him a chance again,” said Landon Donovan, who set up Shea’s goal. “Full credit to Brek for being ready to play and he made the play that made a difference.”
The goal was Shea’s first for the USA in 20 appearances.
SWIFT COUNTERATTACK. The sequence leading to the gamewinner began when U.S. keeper Sean Johnson batted away a Carlos Johnson header following a corner kick. Joe Corona headed the ball down field and reached it again to launch a pass that sent Donovan storming down the right wing. Shea met Donovan’s pass at the edge of the penalty area and beat keeper Patrick Pemberton with a low left-footed shot from 15 yards out.
MIDFIELD SHUFFLE. Klinsmann has tweaked his midfield starting lineup in each Gold Cup game. With Chris Wondolowski at striker, the USA played with a five-man midfield against the Ticos with Donovan high in the center, Jose Torres wide left and Alejandro Bedoya wide right. Behind them played Mix Diskerud andStuart Holden and that midfield kept possession more than the Ticos, especially on the left, where Torres delivered crisp passes. But Shea’s goal puts him back in contention on the left. Corona started the first two Gold Cup games, played well, and scored a fine goal against Cuba. An 80th-minute sub on Tuesday, he sparked the counter for the winner and could be back as a starter on Sunday over Bedoya. Diskerud fared better than Holden, who could make way for Kyle Beckerman. (Klinsmann said after the game he'd make changes for the quarterfinals, which could mean the departure of Shea to Stoke City and return of national team regulars Graham Zusi, Eddie Johnson and/or Brad Davis in midfield.)
FEW CHANCES. Not counting the handball outside the box that could have warranted a red instead of a yellow, Pemberton needed to make only three saves, all of which were forced by Torres -- a cross that Wondolowski back-heeled to Pemberton and a free kick that Pemberton swatted to Donovan, who shot too weakly back to Pemberton while off balance.
YOUNG KEEPER PASSES TEST. While resting his top two keepers, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, at this Gold Cup, Klinsmann opted for 34-year-old Nick Rimando in goal for the first two games and gave 24-year-old Johnson the start against the toughest group opponent. Johnson, a Chicago Fire starter since 2010, is vying for the No. 3 spot -- which often goes to a younger keeper -- at the 2014 World Cup. He had to make only two saves, but the one against Carlos Johnson was impressive. And no doubt a confidence boost for the young man best known for giving up the soft goal that eliminated the USA from 2012 Olympic qualifying.
RECORD STREAK. The USA set the record for its longest winning streak in history at eight. The run began with a friendly win over Germany in June, includes World Cup qualifiers over Jamaica, Panama and Honduras, a friendly against Guatemala, and the three Group C Gold Cup triumphs over Belize, Cuba and Costa Rica.
TIEBREAKER. Before Tuesday’s win, the USA and Costa Rica were even in international play with 12 wins each and six ties.
Group C Results:
July 16 in East Hartford, Conn.USA 1 Costa Rica 0. Goal: Shea 82.
USA -- S.Johnson; Parkhurst, Goodson, Orozco Fiscal, Beasley; Holden, Diskerud; Bedoya (Corona, 80), Donovan, Torre (Shea, 77); Wondolowski (Gomez, 77).
Costa Rica -- Pemberton; C.Johnson, Gonzalez, Umana, Diaz; Cunningham, Tejeda, Borges, Miller (Meneses, 68); Wallace (Rodriguez, 71), Arrieta (9-Alvaro Saborio, 77).
Yellow cards: Costa Rica -- Pemberton 55, Cunningham 56, Arrieta 76; Holden 60, Parkhurst 90+.
Referee: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica).
July 16 in East Hartford, Conn.
Cuba 4 (Martinez 38, 63, 84, Molina 93+) Belize 0.
Group C Standings:
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/-
9 USA 3-0-0 11/2
6 Costa Rica 2-0-1 4/1
3 Cuba 1-0-2 5/7
0 Belize 0-0-3 1/11