Brek Shea got his first international goal in the 82nd minute and the United States remained perfect in the 2013 Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
The match was wide open from the outset and though the pitch was free of snow, both teams were determined to act like a passing game was impossible. Jurgen Klinsmann used an energetic lineup that sought to pressure and disrupt the Costa Rican buildup while Jorge Luis Pinto set up a double pivot to clog the middle and force the Americans to the wings. In general, both strategies worked and the spaces in the midfield quickly gave way to structured and organized defensive thirds.
Mix Diskerud was the nominal holding midfielder with Stuart Holden given more freedom to move forward and bring Jose Torres and Alejandro Bedoya into play. Landon Donovan sat high to start with Chris Wondolowski underneath to make late runs into the box. DaMarcus Beasley wore the captain’s armband at left back with Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco-Fiscal and Michael Parkhurst rounding out the line in front of Sean Johnson.
The Costa Ricans came out in a 4-5-1 with Rodney Wallace moving forward on the counterattack to keep Jairo Arrieta from getting isolated. Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejada, Junior Diaz and Kenny Cunningham were the rest of the midfield in front of Roy Miller, Michael Umana, Giancarlo Gonzalez, and Carlos Johnson. Captain Patrick Pemberton was in goal and, quick preview, should have been ejected.
The Americans found early success up the left with Beasley making an foray into Costa Rican territory and firing inside the near post. Costa Rica responded up the same side and Beasley’s slip gave Rodney Wallace a chance to open the game up in the first few minutes.
Initial opportunities aside, referee Courtney Campbell decided to pocket his whistle for the next twenty minutes and both teams ran up against rough play on the edges of the box. In the twelfth minute, Torres put a deft ball over the top with Bedoya looking to break through the defensive line. The American attacker was taken down, but play continued unabated.
The left side continued to be productive for the Americans and Torres was moving centrally to let Beasley join the attack as Donovan and Wondolowski pushed high. The midfield splintered into two very high players and two quite deep. Holden was dropping into the defense to pick up the ball and Diskerud would only join the attack when he was following a long outlet from his midfield partner.
That long outlet system worked relatively well until halftime, as Donovan and Torres checked into space and released Beasley and Bedoya up the flanks. While the strategy only produced one real opportunity—off a well-placed Beasley cross—it did keep the Costa Rican midfield pinned back.
After Torres sent Wondolowski through in the 28th, the midfielder’s corner kick found Bedoya free in the box. The resulting header spun wide, and the United States again lost the initiative.
Moments later, Junior Diaz produced the eyebrow-raising moment of the match when he offered at a deflected corner with an ambitious bicycle kick. Though the contact was clean, the shot cleared Johnson’s bar by a foot. On the next US corner, Wondolowski tried to top Diaz with a cute backheel that he drilled into the ground.
As the half wore on, Beasley held his runs and committed more to defending Wallace. The Costa Rican attack suffered and the US lost it’s width, forcing more balls down the gut or looking for an early switch and cross into a box flooded with the wrong kind of red, white and blue.
In added time, Donovan was astounded when the referee again waived play on after rough play took the American down from behind. The play summed up the half well: The ref was silent, the Americans weren’t directly threatening the goal, and the Costa Ricans were pushing the boundaries of legal contact deep within their own half.
Diskerud got the second half off with a whimper, sending a soft shot at Pemberton’s feet.
Wondolowski quickly reminded Pemberton what hard felt like when he trundled into the goalie chasing an innocuous cross in the 49th minute. Setting the tone for the half, the keeper stayed down to lick his invisible wounds.
While Diskerud provided energy, Holden continued searching for the game’s rhythm. He started a good move in the 50th minute with a long pass through the center that was flicked wide to Bedoya to feed in to an impeded Donovan, though the resulting free kick came to nothing.
The talking point of the match came six minutes later when Pemberton emerged from his box to head clear a high bouncer. Colliding with his defender, the goalie arose to find Wondolowski squaring to shoot. Pemberton instinctually pushed the shot aside with his fists, and can count himself extremely lucky to have only a caution to his name after such a deliberate handball on what appeared to be a goal scoring opportunity.
Jose Torres almost made Costa Rica pay for their defensive mix up, but Pemberton was equal to the curling free kick and Donovan whiffed on the tumbling rebound.
The cautions began to pile up in the 60th when Holden picked up a card for sliding in late on Cunningham. The American midfielder was clearly frustrated with his inability to stimulate the attack, but his workrate—along with Diskerud’s—were a fine consolation. Bedoya picked up a caution of his own in the 68th for challenging a 50/50 ball and Arrieta grabbed his own yellow card eight minutes later for taking out Holden after a pass.
The substitution parade started in the 67th with Miller making way for the more stoic Meneses. Rodriguez stepped on for Wallace minutes later and Saborio was soon introduced for Arrieta.
Klinsmann countered with Brek Shea and Herculez Gomez, pulling off the effective Torres and the middling Wondolowski. In the 80th minute he also removed Bedoya, who was having an off-night, and introduced the slick ball skills of Joe Corona.
The move paid almost immediate dividends. Sean Johnson was equal to a glancing header in the 81st minute, deflecting it off the crossbar. The Americans broke the other way and Corona released Donovan up the right. Donovan’s first time ball found Shea streaking up the center-left channel and the big winger took a control touch at the edge of the box before finishing to the near post and earning his first international goal.
The final minutes played out uneventfully and the United States kept their perfect record in the 2013 Gold Cup. This time, Costa Rica had no snow to blame.
The US next faces El Salvador in the quarterfinals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore (4 pm, FOX, Univision). You can purchase tickets to the game by clicking here.