It was Brek Shea once more. Two times on their way to Gold Cup glory, the United States had been stymied by a bunkered Central American opponent. Two time the Stoke City winger came off the bench to provide the spark. In group play, the big Texan undid the Costa Ricans, and on Sunday in Chicago, the former FC Dallas man’s 68th minute goal sent the U.S. to a 1-0 victory, the States claiming their fifth CONCACAF Gold Cup.
In a game controlled throughout by the U.S., a tight Panamanian defense made it past the hour mark without allowing a shot on goal. Then shortly after Shea was brought on, a cross rolled in from the right side was allowed to trickle through the defense, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo left helpless as the U.S. sub redirected home from just inside the left post, completing the U.S.’s perfect tournament.
The win leaves the U.S. one behind Mexico for the most Gold Cup titles and complete’s the team’s 6-0-0 tournament, running their all-time best winning streak to 11 games. It also ends the team’s two tournament drought, the U.S. claiming their first CONCACAF title since 2007.
Jurgen Klinsmann, relegated to the stands due to suspension, made only one change from his semifinal team, electing to restore Joe Corona to the side at the expense of Jose Torres. That meant Stuart Holden and Alejandro Bedoya stayed in the side, with Clarence Goodson retaining his space in defense ahead of late call-in Omar Gonzalez.
In the match’s opening moments, the Panamanian approach made it clear the U.S. attack would have trouble replicating the success that pushed them into this final. Facing a team that carried a +15 goal difference into Sunday’s match, Panama set up with two deep lines of four, their plan willing to sacrifice pressure up the field for organization at the back.
As a result, the United States controlled the first half, holding 76 percent of possession while preventing Panama from registering a shot on goal. But Penedo also finished the half untested, with central midfielders Gabriel Gomez and Anibal Godoy holding down a middle that was at times overcrowded by the inverted Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona.
But the first half’s action was overshadowed by the early exit of Stuart Holden, leaving in the 20th minute with an injury to his surgically repaired right knee. At halftime, U.S. Soccer announced a preliminary diagnosis of a sprained knee, saying the U.S. midfielder would be further evaluated. Diskerud came on in the 23rd minute, assuming Holden’s central midfield role.
The second half started with renewed vigor from the U.S., movement by Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson across the Panamanian defense allowing the States to get wide and behind the defense. The plan nearly paid off in the 52nd minute when a Donovan cross hit the extended arm of left back Carlos Rodriguez, though it also failed to draw a whistle. Three minutes later, a cross from DaMarcus Beasley found Donovan just wide of the left post, with the U.S. attacker redirecting his header just wide.
Past the hour mark, however, the U.S. surge had died out. The game resumed its first half’s cadence, with the U.S.’s control proving benign. Though a 67th minute restart saw Bedoya nearly put a glancing header inside Penedo’s right post, from open play the U.S. had run out of ideas.
One minute later, however, Panama obliged, with their defense collapsing into a game-defining error. A weak cross rolled in from the right by Bedoya made its way through the six-yard box, under a flailing attempt by Donovan, and onto the left foot of Shea. Guiding the ball home from just feet before the goal line, the U.S.’s first sub gave his team a lead 42 seconds after stepping onto the field.
A late sitter from Eddie Johnson nearly doubled the U.S.’s lead, but with the ball lifted over the bar from five yards out, the U.S. were left to bleed out the final moments of a dominant title run. Eschewing the penalty kicks they needed to beat Panama in the 2005 final, the U.S. reclaimed the confederation title they gave up in 2009, allowing Klinsmann to end his suspension with his first major title.