In a back-and-forth Gold Cup match, none other than Brek Shea handed the U.S. Men's National Team a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica Tuesday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The scorching-hot Americans had already qualified for the tournament quarterfinals, but cemented its place atop Group C by extending their win streak to eight games.
The Americans went on the attack early in the first half, with DaMarcus Beasley working down the left side of the pitch in the second minute. After a block on his cross, he quickly took control of the rebound and fired toward net, but his attempt went wide.
Costa Rica did well to respond with some pressure of its own early, though, proving to be a more dangerous side than the previous two teams the Americans had faced in the 2013 Gold Cup.
A turnover by the U.S. in the seventh minute gave Rodney Wallace some room to maneuver, and his shot was blocked for a corner kick. Beasley appeared to be injured shortly thereafter, but he was able to continue on the pitch following a short delay.
Wallace continued to apply the pressure in the 12th minute, albeit in a fruitless effort, as the American defense held strong.
The U.S. showed a little energy in the 20th minute, as Stuart Holden tried to find someone over the top of the Costa Rican defense. In the 22nd minute, Landon Donovan and Alejandro Bedoya exchanged passes off a Mikkel Diskerud ball, earning a corner kick. However, USA wasn't able to capitalize off the corner.
In the 23rd minute, Costa Rica had its first shot, but Kenny Cunningham's floating header was easily grabbed by USA goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
The Americans were dominating possession early, albeit without many forward balls that threatened the Costa Rican goal. The USMNT had a chance to score off a corner kick in the 29th minute, but Bedoya wasn't able to time Donovan's sweeping kick correctly, resulting in a lackluster header wide of the far post.
The two teams began to force the action, battling back and forth before Costa Rica earned a corner. However, Junior Diaz's attempt at a bicycle kick in the 33rd minute sailed over the crossbar. In the 36th, Chris Wondolowski's back-heel chip was saved by Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton. Fox Soccer tweeted out video of Wondolowski's attempt:
A clever attempt from Wondolowski as he tries to put the USA on the scoreboard with a backheel in the box. Watch it: http://t.co/8DW8KSl3SB— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 17, 2013
Overall, Costa Rica's defense did a good job of thwarting the many American challenges in the first half, as both teams remained scoreless at halftime. The teams managed only one shot on target apiece in the first 45 minutes.
The action in the second half started out slowly before Wondolowski crashed into Pemberton on a ball from Diskerud in the 50th minute. Michael Parkhurst and Cunningham got a bit scrappy after a collision.
In the 53rd minute, Donovan was fouled, earning the Americans a free kick from about 30 yards out. But Wondolowski was offsides on Donovan's ensuing lob. Donovan's next ball to Torres was cleared by the Costa Rican defense.
The action began to pick up, as Wondolowski continued to put on the pressure. Pemberton was issued a yellow card after touching the ball outside the box, resulting in a free kick for the Americans. Torres' ensuing free kick found Donovan, but Pemberton was there for a nice save.
In the 60th minute, Holden misjudged his tackle and earned a yellow card for his foul on Cunningham. But Celso Borges' ensuing free kick curled over the bar.
The play was much more physical in the second half, as numerous players clashed. There were three yellow cards issued in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Costa Rica's Roy Miller was injured in the 66th minute and was replaced by Christopher Meneses.
Costa Rica earned three corner kicks from the 70th minute to the 73rd minute, but the side was unable to capitalize.
In the 77th minute, Shea and Herculez Gomez came into the match, while Wondolowski and Torres headed to the bench. In the 79th, Diskerud challenged with a low strike, but Pemberton once again corralled it. Johnson made a leaping save a few minutes later, as the Americans breathed a sigh of relief.
It turned out to be a huge save, as the unlikely hero Shea—who drew his fair share of criticism against Cuba—scored in the 82nd minute off a touch from Donovan on the counterattack. Fox Soccer tweeted out the goal:
Don't blink! Johnson makes a huge save, then on the fast break Donovan plays Shea through for the USA's goal. Watch: http://t.co/t948oO5DMk— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 17, 2013
The United States played it safe the rest of the way. The Costa Ricans mounted a couple of attacks in the last bit of stoppage time, but it was to no avail. In the end, Johnson and Shea came up huge for the Americans in the 1-0 victory. The Americans set a new federation record with their eighth consecutive victory.
The United State will face El Salvador in the knockout stage on Sunday. Game time is set for 4 p.m. ET at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Costa Rica will face Honduras.