Late Brek Shea goal lifts United States to Gold Cup win over Costa Rica

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Landon Donovan and Brek Shea combined for a late goal as the United States finished group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Tuesday at Rentschler Field in Hartford.

Shea, the Stoke City winger who had such a tough time in the United States’ weekend win over Cuba, supplied Tuesday’s only goal about six minutes after his second-half entrance. His calm finish in the 83rd minute, his first in a U.S. shirt, may go a long way to getting the big left winger back on track. But it was Donovan’s aggressive choice to play a perfect, early ball from a wide position for a breaking Shea on the left that made the play.

With previous group stage wins over Belize and Cuba, the United States finishes first in Group C and will now meet El Salvador in Sunday’s tournament quarterfinals in Baltimore.

The United States was the only team it the 12-team regional tournament to finish group play undefeated.

Although neither team used its top personnel Tuesday, United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann did sprinkle a few starters into the lineup, emphasizing his desire to win and finish atop the group even though both teams at the University of Connecticut Huskies’ football stadium had already secured passage into the tournament’s elimination round.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States on Tuesday)

Donovan, the team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, and recent scoring star Chris Wondolowski were both in Tuesday’s starting 11. Costa Rica’s scoring star, Alvaro Saborio, was left on the bench but did come into the hot, muggy night late.

It was easily the best test of the three U.S. group stage contests. Ten minutes in, the United States’ defense had already been put under greater pressure than Belize and Cuba had mustered combined in the first two group matches.

Scoring opportunities were scarce for both sides. Over the first 45 minutes, Costa Rica directed two half chances toward young U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson, filling in for Gold Cup starter Nick Rimando. The United States had perhaps one chance before the break, a little back heel flick from Wondolowski that didn’t bother Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.

Pemberton created the game’s most controversial instance in the 56th minute when he charged out of goal to intercept a through ball and then, while still well outside the penalty area, used his hands to knock down a shot. In an moment that typically calls for an immediate red cad, referee Courtney Campbell opted only for a caution.

Jose Torre’s ensuing free kick nearly sneaked under the crossbar, but Pemberton saved the left-footed effort nicely. Most of the night, however, the United States struggled to find opportunities against the Ticos’ five-man back line. Donovan’s savvy pass was the key to the breakthrough, putting Shea in alone against Pemberton.

“I know Brek felt bad about his performance the other night,” Donovan told Fox Soccer Channel minutes after Tuesday’s final whistle. “Full credit to Jurgen for letting him play again. Full credit to Brek for being ready. He made the play that made the difference. … As the tournament goes on, we’re going to need more guys to step up.”

At the other end, Sean Johnson’s big save on a Costa Rican header turned out to be quite important, serving to initiate the counter attack that provide Tuesday’s only goal.

The win extended the United States’ record in the group phase to 28-1-2 all-time. The team improved to 9-2-2 overall in 2013 and to 8-1-1 in games on U.S. soil this year.

U.S. LINEUP: Sean Johnson; Michael Parkhurst, Michael Orozco, Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley; Alejandro Bedoya (Joe Corona, 80th), Mix Diskerud, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres (Brek Shea, 77th); Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski (Herculez Gomez, 77th).

The 2 Robbies: North London Runs Rampant On Merseyside

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In today’s podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle talk two exciting Premier League matches. First, they discuss Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 win against Liverpool (0:24). Mustoe thought Spurs were gifted the win by the Reds (0:50), while Earle thought they were very impressive indeed. Then, they break down Arsenal’s 5-2 win at Goodison Park (17:38).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Vote of confidence: Bilic expected to remain West Ham manager

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Nine games into the 2017-18 Premier League season, Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman find themselves in a neck-and-neck race to (not) be this campaign’s first manager fired.

[ MORE: Spurs break the hoodoo, thrash Liverpool at Wembley ]

After suffering home defeats of 3-0 (to Brighton) and 5-2 (to Arsenal), respectively, this weekend, from this point forward every breath taken could be their last in their current job — unless the results begin to change, quickly. With Everton having only played on Sunday, no final decision is believed to have been made regarding Koeman’s future.

Having played on Friday and had the weekend to mull things over, though, West Ham United’s owners have reportedly decided that Bilic will remain in the job for at least another two games, a period during which he must secure his job long-term, according to a report from Sky Sports.

Up next for 16th-place West Ham is a trip to Selhurst Park to take on bottom-of-the-league Crystal Palace on Saturday. 18th-place Everton visit Leicester City on Sunday.

Pochettino’s Spurs put on show for Maradona, Kobe

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Post writers, us included, were drawn to Liverpool’s continued defensive woes following Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 demolition of the Reds at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

With Jurgen Klopp‘s personality and post-match quotes regarding uncapitalized goat Dejan Lovren, that’s understandable, but it would be a big mistake to not celebrate the class of Spurs on Sunday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp, Matip reaction ]

Harry Kane is world class, scoring twice and providing a clever assist on another goal as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men showed the well-oiled nature of their machine.

And he was glowing on a match day that saw Kobe Bryant and one of Pochettino’s Argentine heroes, Diego Maradona, at Wembley:

“I spoke to Diego Maradona before the game, it was very emotional. He brings very good energy. He is the best player ever in football history.”

That the win is coming after a draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu is even more notable, considering the manners of each match. Hugo Lloris joined Kane as a star of the show of a more defensive-minded away midweek, but was merely a component as Spurs went for the jugular against the dicey defense of Liverpool.

Margins are small in the Premier League, but you could easily make an argument that Spurs are unlucky to sit five points behind Manchester City. Their star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made gaffes in their lone league loss, to Chelsea, and a failure to finish myriad chances allowed Chris Wood‘s late goal to stand as an equalizer against Burnley.

“It is the third season that we are trying to catch someone. Manchester City are doing very well, they have an amazing squad and one of the best managers in the world. We see what happens, we believe, we will try to catch them. We are focused every day.

There’s another rough stretch ahead for Pochettino’s men, who don’t face City until Dec. 16. Presumably it’ll be second choice at West Ham in the League Cup this week before a trip to Old Trafford, and Spurs have the luxury of making that tough visit without fearing Paul Pogba on the other side of the pitch.

Then, it’s Real Madrid at home in the Champions League, a visit from Palace, and the international break. The North London Derby follows away, and Spurs will hope to have the UCL group sewn up before a trip to BVB days later.

The remaining schedule, save a trip to currently tricky Watford, would set them up to move within touching distance of City following the Dec. 16 match at the Etihad. The interim sees Man City facing Arsenal and Manchester United, so it wouldn’t be absurd to think Spurs could make up ground should City stumble (as unlikely as that looks right now).

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Klopp, Matip react to another rough Liverpool defensive showing

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Joel Matip is shouldering the blame for Liverpool’s defensive collapse against Tottenham Hotspur, while the Reds’ manager is placing it on at least partially on Matip’s partner for the first half hour.

“Most teams at home with the stand in their back are always stronger,” Matip said after the 4-1 loss at Wembley Stadium.

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-1 Liverpool ]

“I am a defender and I should take care of this. We don’t think about the title race at the moment, we only try to get back in a good mood for next week.”

As for Klopp, he’s angry as expected following the shipping of four goals to Spurs. That verb works doubly here, as giveaways and mistakes were common place amongst the Reds’ backs and midfield.

Dejan Lovren had a rough day, subbing out after 31 minutes. The injured center back played a big part in Spurs first two goals, including leaping for and missing a Hugo Lloris long ball. From the BBC:

“If I am involved in this situation on the pitch, then Harry cannot get the ball.”

“We have to realize that we are responsible for this and nobody else. Of course we can fix it and we have to fix it as well.”

Klopp also detailed what went wrong with each of the four goals, then proffering that “the game was finished then.” Right.

There’s a lot to love about Klopp, who can be a tactical wizard. But he’s also struggled to convince players of their roles, and has shipped some very decent center back depth out-of-town. The latter is the reason Klopp used a less than fit Lovren on Sunday, and it burned them against a well-oiled Spurs side.

Follow @NicholasMendola