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).

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.