HARTFORD, Conn- The US clinched the top seed out of Group C in the Gold Cup by beating Costa Rica 1-0 on Tuesday evening at Rentschler Field in front of 25,432. The US will now move on to play El Salvador in the quarterfinals on Sunday in Baltimore.
Costa Rica kept a large contigent of their players back in defense for most of the game, which nearly prevented the US from earning their third consecutive win in the tournament.
But the decisive play finally came in the 82nd minute on a sequence that started with a shot that hit the crossbar by Costa Rica's Alvaro Saborio and ended with US stampeding downfield and Brek Shea putting the ball into the back of the net.
"The team deserves a huge compliment," said US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann after the game. "A tie isn't fine with us. The team pushed until the last minute and deserved a goal. We're obviously happy. First place, nine points. And you can see that there's a chemistry developing that is fun to watch."
The goal was also of great importance to Shea, whose role on the national team has come into question due to his lack of playing time with Stoke City and his poor play as a starter in the US' 4-1 victory over Cuba on Sunday. Shea, who entered Tuesday's game as a substitute for Jose Torres in the 77th minute, showed again what he can do by scoring the winning goal.
"Brek made a great run," explained Landon Donovan, who made the assist on Shea's goal. "Sometimes when a team has their whole team behind the ball defensively, you have to make a special play. That's absolutely the guy we want to have score that goal."
Though the US out-shot Costa Rica for most of the game, it appeared as though they would have to settle for a scoreless result until Shea's goal came. Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton only faced two clear cut scoring chances in addition to the goal he allowed.
In the 56th minute, Alejandro Bedoya sent the ball toward the Costa Rica net and Pemberton came out of the penalty area to clear the long pass away. He collided with defender Yeltsin Tejada, causing him to fall to the ground. Mix Diskerud ran toward the loose ball and fired a 20-yard cannon at goal that Pemberton, who was still outside the penalty area, knocked away.
Because he was outside the penalty area and handled the ball, Pemberton was yellow carded by referee Courtney Campbell and the US was awarded a freekick. Torres took the set piece, curling a shot toward the upper right corner of the net that Pemberton had to fully extend to his left to knock away.
That was Torres only offensive contribution, which explained why Klinsmann replaced him with Shea late in the second half. Five minutes after being on the field, Shea provided the US with the goal they needed.
In the 82nd minute, Saborio headed a corner kick off the fingertips of Johnson and then off the crossbar. Herculez Gomez collected the loose ball in the penalty area for the US and then found Joe Corona, who played the ball to Landon Donovan, who was wide open on the right flank.
Donovan made a ten yard run before sending a low cross into the heart of the penalty area for Shea, who took two touches before slotting the ball into the back of the net past Pemberton for his first career international goal.
"The game was kind of open at times," explained Shea. "That was one of the moments, it was a good counter...It popped out and someone played it to Landon. Landon made a run. I thought I should be there, in case Landon sees me. I couldn't ask for a better ball. It was just muscle memory at that point."
The result puts the US on an unprecedented eight-game winning run. They will join Panama, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, and Trinidad & Tobago in the Gold Cup's knockout round.
"It's pretty cool," said Donovan. "We're all happy to be a part of it. Any national team that wins eight games in a row, no matter who you're playing, is pretty special. We're hoping by the end of the tournament it'll be 11 in a row."
You can reach Julian at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @juliancardillo
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