United States vs. Costa Rica: 5 Things We Learned
In its final game of the group stage of the Gold Cup, the United States saw off Costa Rica in a surprisingly tense 1-0 game that was decided by Brek Shea's first international goal in the 82nd minute.
Neither team had much to lose.
The U.S.'s win made sure that it topped its group and built confidence in doing so, but both the Americans and Costa Ricans would have progressed had the result been reversed.
Nevertheless, Shea's strike provided a thrilling climax to an interesting day for Jurgen Klinsmann's team of backups—and Landon Donovan.
Let's take a look at five things we learned from the match.
Costa Rica's Defense Is Fantastic
If you would permit me to take a quick dip into the realm of hyperbole, Costa Rica's defensive organization and tenacity were reminiscent of the treble-winning Bayern Munich side of this past season.
I am not juxtaposing, in any way, the two sides as if they—or the quality of their opponents—are equal in a single respect.
However, the Costa Ricans maintained an extremely disciplined defensive line throughout the match that stifled the American attack.
Every centre-back moved in synchronicity, every midfielder attacked the ball and every player knew his place. If it can replicate this sort of fortitude, Costa Rica might well advance in this tournament.
U.S. Midfielders Need to Work More with Forwards to Create Chances
Cobi Jones, who was on color commentating duty for Fox Soccer, made a rather salient point when he admonished the United States forwards for not dropping deeper to assist their midfielders in moving the ball forward.
Against a perfectly synchronized and aggravatingly aggressive defense like that of Costa Rica, that is the only recourse for a team of the U.S.'s relatively mediocre quality.
Landon Donovan certainly did his bit, but where was Chris Wondolowski when the likes of Jose Torres were forced to pass the ball sideways and fight through swarming red shirts?
That's the sort of link-up play that Jozy Altidore is so good at, which perhaps reflects the chasm between the U.S.'s starting striker and its backup.
Sean Johnson Could Be a Viable Option in Goal
As always, the United States is not in danger of finding itself with a dearth of quality goalkeepers.
The Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson, who entered the Gold Cup as second choice behind Nick Rimando, would probably not have been on many people's shortlists to replace Tim Howard.
His performance against Costa Rica alone will not hoist him up many places on Jurgen Klinsmann's list, but Johnson was extremely solid in goal. He never made a rash decision, he commanded his penalty box well and he stretched to make a couple of quality saves.
There was certainly no evidence that the United States defenders lacked confidence in a man with whom they had barely played in a competitive setting.
We will have to keep our eyes on the situation to see if he can ever navigate his way through the perpetually entangled mesh of capable American goalkeepers.
Brek Shea Needs to Use His Goal as a Platform
When a player in any sport is slumping, one looks for the most minute signs of positivity to elevate one's hopes of his proximate improvement.
Perhaps Brek Shea's watershed moment came in the 82nd minute.
Put through on a swift counterattack by a brilliant through ball from Landon Donovan, Shea remained remarkably composed and coolly slotted the ball past Costa Rica's goalkeeper to seal victory for the U.S.
It was his very first international goal.
Any follower of American soccer knows that Shea is one of the more talented young players rising through the ranks. But after his career at FC Dallas acrimoniously stalled, a transfer to Stoke City in January only yielded two Premier League appearances.
Shea needs a turnaround during this coming season. Perhaps it has now begun.
Landon Donovan Is Still Landon Donovan
After a lengthy hiatus from the national team, Landon Donovan needs to prove to Jurgen Klinsmann that he is an asset to his primary squad—just as all the other players on the Gold Cup roster are seeking to do.
Never mind the fact that he is the second-most capped player in American soccer history, holds the records for most goals and assists in American soccer history and is the team's only player to ever officially record 50 international goals and assists.
What can Donovan do for the national team now?
Quite a lot, apparently.
He was the United States' liveliest, most involved and creative player, drifting into multiple attacking areas to influence the play in any way possible. No player on the pitch could have executed the curled through ball that led to Shea's goal as perfectly as he did.
In short, Donovan can still—and will—be a key contributor for the U.S.