Just when it appeared the United States was destined for a draw with Costa Rica in the 2013 Gold Cup on Tuesday, an unlikely hero emerged.
That unlikely hero was Brek Shea.
The 23-year-old midfielder was roundly criticized after losing 14 balls in the first half against Cuba on Saturday. He responded by scoring the game-winner in the 82nd minute against Costa Rica as the Americans captured their eighth consecutive match and advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament.
So, what did we learn from USA's 1-0 defeat of Costa Rica?
Let's take a look.
Jurgen Klinsmann Still Sticking to the Conservative Approach
USA held the ball for 63 percent of Tuesday's match (per MLSSoccer.com), but the Americans only began to threaten in the second half.
A lot of USA's passes in the first half were lateral in nature, as the side rarely made a strong push upfield. Part of that was Costa Rica's defense, and part of it was Jurgen Klinsmann sticking to his guns.
With the Americans only needing a draw to capture Group C on Tuesday, it's possible that Klinsmann didn't want to push his luck, but you wonder if he will open things up a bit moving forward. After all, when Clarence Goodson and Michael Orozco Fiscal lead your team in completed passes in the first half, you can guess not a whole lot is happening on offense.
USA Can Rise Up at Pivotal Times
Practically everything about Tuesday's match forecasted a draw.
That is until goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a spectacular save, which started the break for the Americans.
Joe Corona was lightning-quick on the counterattack, finding Landon Donovan down the left flank. Donovan then expertly one-timed the ball to Shea on the opposite side of the field, who found himself all alone with only Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton to beat.
Shea's ensuing shot was good, and all of a sudden USA had the lead with time running out for Costa Rica.
Fox Soccer had the highlight:
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
Sequences like that—a great play on defense that turns into a game-breaker on offense—is the kind of stuff that can push teams far into tournaments.
As ordinary as much of the match appeared, the Americans showed that all it takes is one flash of brilliance to turn the tide.
USA Clicking on Multiple Levels
While the United States only scored one goal on Tuesday, it did come against a capable Costa Rica side which had posted two consecutive clean sheets before meeting Klinsmann's men. The finishing offensive sequence was also a joy to behold.
Headed into their clash with Costa Rica, the Americans had scored 10 goals in two Gold Cup matches. They allowed two goals in the group stage. That was after the side had swept its three-match summer slate of World Cup qualifying matches.
From the first team to the second team, USA is finding ways to win. That cannot be overlooked.