Johnson save is prelude to Shea's winner as U.S. edges Costa Rica in Gold Cup.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, July 16, 2013) -- Very often, when a goalkeeper makes a great save, it inspires his teammates to elevate their performance. That was certainly the case tonight when United States men’s keeper Sean Johnson made a sensational stop and the American attack, anemic to that point, embarked on a 100-yard dash, culminated by reserve midfielder Brek Shea’s clinical finish.
Shea’s first international goal came in the 82nd minute, staking the U.S. to a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica for the Group C title in the CONCACAF Gold Cup before 25,432 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
The U.S. (3-0), setting a record with its eight straight win, advanced to a Sunday quarterfinal against El Salvador at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium at 4 p.m. (ET). The game will be televised by Fox and Spanish-language Univision.
The U.S., the only team in the 12-nation field to win all three of its group games, snapped Costa Rica’s eight-match unbeaten streak and a period of 785 minutes without conceding a goal. The last time the Ticos allowed the goals was a 1-0 loss March 22 to the Americans in a snowy and controversial World Cup qualifier in Commerce City, Colo.
The game seemed headed for a 0-0 draw, which would have been good for the U.S., which would have won Group C if the match ended tied. Then, in the 82nd minute, Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges sent a left-side corner kick to the far post where defender Carlos Johnson powered a header to the top right corner. Johnson went up and made a brilliant save, batting the ball off his crossbar.
After a wild scramble in the penalty area, the ball was cleared into the middle where U.S. midfielder Joe Corona fed midfielder Landon Donovan, racing across the center-stripe on the right flank. In full stride, Donovan used his first touch to send the ball to five yards above the center of the box. Shea ran on to it and with his second touch drove a low left-footer which glanced off the sliding Pemberton’s right glove into the left side of the net.
The U.S. was flat through an uneventful opening 45 minutes, rarely dangerous and seemingly content to try to move the ball down the outside> The ball often went to the feet of left-side defender DaMarcus Beasley, who tried to use his speed to get around defenders. Any attempt by the Americans to move the ball through the middle was usually futile, with multiple Ticos defenders responding.
As a mark of how impotent the U.S. attack was in the first half, striker Chris Wondolowski, the Gold Cup leader with five goals, didn’t get his first touch on the ball until the 35th minute and his one shot on goal was easily turned away by Pemberton. For the match, the U.S. managed four shots on goal and Costa Rica two.
Pemberton made a good save on Wondolowski in the 56th minute and, Donovan was in prime position to net the rebound, but muffed the shot, allowing the prone keeper to corral it.
The U.S. defense was improved tonight, particularly on set pieces, and held Costa Rica to very few quality chances. With both American outside backs pushing forward, a lot of defending was done by the midfielders and, on one late occasion, by Donovan who tracked all the way back to provide cover.
Earlier, U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann had said that he would likely start his best 11 for this game, but he did not. Besides giving Johnson his first start in goal since a friendly in January, midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Tony Beltran were on the bench and unused. At times, it is difficult to interpret which players Klinsmann favors.
U.S. Player Ratings:
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson - 6: He had nothing to do and barely toughed the ball for the first hour. Then, he made a very fine save in the 82nd minute that started the U.S.’s winning sequence. He added a good save and snatched a dangerous cross in stoppage time to preserve the triumph. He was there when he had to be in a much more assured performance than some of his previous international starts.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 6: In the first half, he was really much of the U.S. offense as he essentially played an attacking midfield role.
Defender Michael Orozco Fiscal - 5.5: At times, he seemed a step slow in coverage, but he did not pay a price. His distribution from the back could have been better.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 6: Ranged both to his right and left, and was effective in stopping a number of Costa Rican thrusts. He did well on the few high balls that were sent into the box in a steady performance.
Defender Michael Parkhurst - 5.5: He had an odd night. He pushed forward often, but then tended to get caught out of position. He did well defensively and made no big missteps. His big play of the night was tripping Costa Rica defender Kenny Cunningham, as he made a late, dangerous run for an equalizer. He earned a yellow card for the professional foul.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: With Beasley pushing far forward, Bedoya had the responsibility of filling the hole that was opened on the left side and he did so admirably. He broke up any number of Costa Rican attacks in a match that was mainly played in the midfield.
Midfielder Mikkel Diskerud - 6.5: He was aggressive and solid, resembling a second-team version of Jermaine Jones without Jones’ penchant for yellow cards. Diskerud does much of the hard work in the midfield and acts as a link between the defense and those in front of him. For the second match in a row, he was tireless, often dropping deep into the defensive end while sometimes combining with Donovan to push the attack in a fine effort.
Midfielder Jose Torres - 5.5: He wants to be an offensive force, but he was required to play a lot of defense. He did so effectively, but made a few errors. He looked tired as the second half ground on.
Midfielder Stuart Holden - 4: This was his first 90-minute appearance for the U.S. in almost three years. He simply looked tired and really had no impact on the match.
Forward Landon Donovan - 6.5: He provided what little movement there was in the U.S. offense. He is to be commended for the effort he put in over 90 minutes, constantly fighting off multiple markers. His pass to Shea for the winner was a thing of beauty.
Forward Chris Wondolowski - 4.5: What he showed tonight is that while he has good movement in the box, he does very little running outside of it. He has clearly shown he can get in a good position and finish when the ball is given to him, but he often does not have the pace to put himself in those positions. He might just be weary from three matches in eight days.
Midfielder Brek Shea (77th minute for Gomez) - 6: Coming off a dreadful performance against Cuba, he was much better tonight. He was active and, when he had the game on his foot, he made no mistake..
Midfielder Herculez Gomez (77th minute for Holden) - 5: He had the disappointment where most of his time was spent killing off the match. He really never touched the ball.
Midfielder Joe Corona (80th minute for Bedoya) - 5.5: He was active in the midfield in the last few minutes.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Mikkel Diskerud.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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