The United States finished Gold Cup group play with a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica. Brek Shea secured the win with a goal late in the second half. The Americans secured all nine possible points in Group C and stretched their win streak to eight matches.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann deserves a lot of credit. Shea has been downright brutal at times during the tournament. Leaving him on the bench for the duration wouldn't have sparked any outrage, but Klinsmann decided to give him another chance.
A handful of minutes after replacing Jose Francisco Torres, Shea broke free from the defense on a counterattack and Landon Donovan delivered a perfect pass. While the finish wasn't clinical, it was enough to find the net and ensure the United States would finish atop the group.
The tally marked the first in 20 international appearances for the 23-year-old winger. Scoring the winner should provide an instant, much-needed boost of confidence.
Along with positive signs from Shea, the match continued to showcase a recent theme for the United States. A different set of players seems to step up in every match to push the team over the top, illustrating depth that will become crucial during the latter stages of the World Cup cycle.
Chris Wondolowski and Stuart Holden have both been key contributors since the "B" team came together, but neither was overly impressive last night. In particular, shutting down Wondolowski was a clear focus of the Costa Rican defense after his recent run of top form.
In the past, that's when the team would have faltered—perhaps accepting a scoreless draw or even losing the match and making the road to the championship more difficult.
Instead, a new set of players rose to the occasion. That's why optimism is starting to rise, and rightfully so. No matter what lineup Klinsmann puts out there, they are finding a way to win.
Sean Johnson put together a very strong performance in goal. He thwarted several dangerous opportunities for Costa Rica, including one that directly led to the breakout chance that Shea buried for the victory.
Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Orozco and Mix Diskerud are among the other unheralded players who made their presence felt throughout the match.
Although there's been a rotating cast of characters providing support, the two constants throughout the tournament have been Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley.
Donovan, who led Shea perfectly with a well-timed ball, has shown no signs of slowing down. He's still the valuable offensive weapon he was in the past and is quickly asserting himself as a player who must be more involved with the first-team squad moving forward.
While Donovan shines on the attack, Beasley continues to impress as a defender. Not only has he provided some veteran stability to a back line that desperately needed some, but he frequently moves forward as well.
Between the two stalwarts and a growing group of secondary contributors, the United States should feel very confident heading into the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup.
Looking ahead, several players from the squad have made strong cases to see action when World Cup qualifying resumes in a couple of months—Donovan and Wondolowski being the two biggest standouts.
All told, the Gold Cup has been a success so far and there's no reason to believe the United States can't stretch its winning streak to 11 en route to the title.
As always, however, the squad must take it one match at a time. Up next: El Salvador.