EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Brek Shea didn’t expect to get off the bench Tuesday night. When he did, he grabbed the role of hero for the United States.
Shea, who struggled in an earlier Gold Cup appearance, scored his first international goal off a feed from Landon Donovan in the 82nd minute, giving the United States a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica and the top spot in its group.
Seconds after Sean Johnson made a brilliant save off a corner kick, Joe Corona cleared the ball, setting up the winning sequence. The veteran Donovan, trying to work his way back into a starring role on the national team after a self-imposed hiatus, took the ball on the right side. He quickly spotted Shea, who came on just five minutes earlier, streaking down the middle.
Donovan’s pass hit Shea in stride, and the Stoke City player sent a left-footed shot from 15 yards off goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton for the winner, the Americans’ eighth straight victory, a team record.
“It’s good,” Shea said, downplaying his massive contribution after struggling earlier in the tournament. “First U.S. goal, only goal of the game, it wins the group. Really good.
“I still prepare the same way, but honestly, no,” he added when asked if he thought coach Jurgen Klinsmann would use him.
Klinsmann did call on Shea, showing faith in a player who has had his ups and downs in the national program.
“We have a lot of young players coming through the ranks,” Klinsmann said. “All these players, we need to carefully build them and support them when things go wrong. Eventually, it will pay off.”
The Americans will play El Salvador in the quarterfinals Sunday in Baltimore, while Costa Rica meets Honduras in the knockout round.
Shea’s goal broke a 785-minute string without being scored upon for Costa Rica.
Cuba 4, Belize 0: Ariel Martinez ended Cuba’s long Gold Cup drought with three goals Tuesday, and Jeniel Molina’s last-second score lifted the Cubans into the quarterfinals with a rout of overmatched Belize.
The Cubans finished the tournament 1-2 after losses to the United States and Costa Rica, but the four-goal win allowed them to advance over Martinique as one of the top third-place teams.
Belize (0-3) was eliminated.