DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Johnson

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


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).

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.