EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Brek Shea didn’t expect to get off the bench in Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Gold Cup match. When he did, he grabbed the role of hero for the United States.
Shea scored his first international goal off a feed from Landon Donovan in the 81st 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.
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.
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Donovan’s pass hit Shea in stride, and the English Premier League player sent a left-footed shot from 15 yards off goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton for the winner.
The Americans set a team record with their eighth consecutive victory.
“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.
Earlier Tuesday, Ariel Martinez had three goals, and Jenier Marquez’s last-second score lifted the Cubans into the quarterfinals with a 4-0 rout of Belize.
It was Cuba’s first victory in 14 Gold Cup games, including 12 losses. The Cubans finished the opening round 1-2 after losses to the United States and Costa Rica, but the four-goal victory allowed them to advance as one of the top third-place teams.
“For me, it was like winning the World Cup,” Martinez said. “It is a great achievement for us, and it made me very happy.”