US beats Costa Rica to win its Gold Cup group

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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Brek Shea scored his first international goal in the 82nd minute Tuesday night, giving the United States a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica and the top spot in Group C of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.

Seconds after U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a brilliant save off a corner kick, Joe Corona cleared the ball, setting up the winning sequence. Veteran Landon 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 six 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 Costa Rica keeper Patrick Pemberton for the winner. The U.S. team has won a record eight consecutive matches.

“It’s good,” said Shea, 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.”

The United States will play El Salvador in a quarterfinal match Sunday in Baltimore, while Costa Rica will meet Honduras in the knockout round. The U.S. team and Costa Rica each entered Tuesday’s match with 2-0 records in group play.

Shea’s goal snapped Costa Rica’s streak of not allowing a goal at 785 minutes. It came after Johnson, considered a fourth-stringer at best in the net for the United States, made a clutch stop on Carlos Johnson.

“Once I made the save, we just tried to get it out of there,” Sean Johnson recalled. “Then I saw it cleared and we’re breaking the other way. It created an opportunity and we finished it.”

The match, which attracted a crowd of 25,432, was played in different conditions than the last time the nations met. That was in a blizzard in the Denver area, with the United States edging Costa Rica 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier.

This time, there was plenty of moisture on the pitch before kickoff, but it came from sprinklers trying to keep the turf in shape during a heat wave.

“The only thing we lacked was getting the goal,” Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said.

U.S. captain DaMarcus Beasley took a nasty spill and was run over by Costa Rica’s Rodney Wallace early in the match. A woozy Beasley sat out three minutes before returning — and almost immediately stripped the ball from Wallace.

In the opener of the doubleheader, Cuba reached the quarterfinal round by beating Belize 4-0.

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