SHEA SPARKS US OVER TICOS
The U.S national team received late game heroics from Sean Johnson, Landon Donovan, and Brek Shea to defeat Costa Rica and win Group C at the 2013 Gold Cup.
The U.S team easily won its first two games at the Gold Cup over Belize and Cuba but Costa Rica was always going to be a much stronger test. The Ticos currently sit in second place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and carried a scoreless streak of 704 minutes entering into the match.
While defense is Costa Rica's strength, it was surprising that the team adopted such a defensive approach to start this game needed a win to finish atop the group. Both teams had already qualified for the quarterfinals and the game on Tuesday was for placement.
"They had a back five line that was very compact and didn't allow any space to go through," U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It will end up in a grind. You have to sooner or later hope there is an opening moment and breakthrough and score a goal. We said at halftime you have to be patient and keep working them. We have to find ways. It's a lot of work.'
Even with both teams having secured a spot in the quarterfinals, Klinsmann made it clear this was an important game as Costa Rica is one of the top teams in the region.
"I made it clear to the team there's a lot at stake," Klinsmann said. "It's Costa Rica and we want to send them a signal. We might meet them again in this tournament. A tie is not fine with us. "
Early in the first half, neither team was able to secure many chances. Costa Rica's best chance of the half came in the 33rd minute when Junior Diaz hit a bicycle kick that narrowly sailed over the bar.
Just minutes later, the Americans nearly moved in front on a flurry of chances in the 36th minute close to the goal. On the final chance, Chris Wondolowski sent a backheel shot just wide of the net.
In the second half, the U.S team was the victim of a surprising call from the referee. The play began with Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton rushing out of his box to clear a ball but instead colliding with his teammate. The ball fell to Wondolowski who had an open net but his shot was handled by Pemberton still outside his box. Instead of a red card, Pemberton was only given a yellow. The Americans protested vehemently for a red card but to no avail
On the ensuing free kick, Jose Torres hit a hard shot that Pemberton was able to save in a full stretch. The rebound came to Wondolowski who failed to convert.
In the 82nd minute, however, the U.S team was able to move in front on a beautiful sequence. It began with a Costa Rica corner delivered from Celso Borges. Borges' kick found Alvaro Saborio who headed a shot that forced Sean Johnson into making a spectacular save.
Following the save, the ball found its way to Joe Corona who had just entered the game for Alejandro Bedoya. Corona hit a long ball that sprung Donovan into the attack. With just his first touch, Donovan found a streaking Brek Shea up the middle who moved in along against Pemberton and beat him with a low show for a 1-0 lead.
For Donovan it was his 52nd assist for the U.S team and he already also has 53 goals in 147 appearances. For Shea, it was his first international goal and it came on the heels of one of the worst performances of his career against Cuba on Saturday.
"Obviously it starts with a great save from Sean," Donovan recalled. "Joe hit me a great pass. I looked up and saw Brek running. It's not hard to miss that hair streaking down the other side of the field. I just wanted to put it in a good spot for him so he had enough time to take a touch. After the other day he felt bad about his performance and you could tell in the reaction by all of us how happy we were for him that he got that goal and the win."
"The pass was perfect," Klinsmann said. "It was a wonderful ball into Brek, a beautiful combination there."
Shea admitted after the game that it was a nice to get the goal but that he doesn't want to take it out of perspective.
"I just saw the counter was on and Landon was getting the ball," Shea said. "He played a good first time ball. It soccer and you have up days and down days. I've had a lot of down days lateley. Today was good for me. It puts it behind me. It feels good. I can't get too high of this and I can't get too low off the last game. It's just one game and just one little thing."
With the win, the U.S team secured first place in Group C and will face El Salvador in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup on Sunday in Baltimore.
Klinsmann will be allowed to make for chances to his roster for the knockout stages of the Gold Cup and he has indicated he will do so. But he does admit that the chemistry developing within this team is fun to watch.
"I'm obviously happy with first place and nine points." Klinsmann said. "You can see that there is a chemistry developing that is fun to watch."