Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Brek Shea admitted he wanted to curb his happiness after scoring the winning goal against Costa Rica on Tuesday, but he still could not stop himself from expressing just how much it meant to him to find the back of the net.
Just three days after enduring a terrible performance in a 4-1 victory over Cuba that had many fans and pundits lambasting, Shea came through in a big way for the U.S. Men’s National Team by scoring a late winner in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in their Gold Cup group stage finale at Rentschler Field on Tuesday night.
The 81st-minute goal was Shea’s first on the international level and saw the U.S. achieve their goal of finishing first in Group C, but it also served as a source of redemption for a player who had heard his share of criticism in recent weeks and months.
“It just feels good because a lot of people talk a lot of smack,” said Shea. “I can’t get too high off of this, I can’t get too low off the last game. This is just one game and one little thing. There’s a lot of games left in this tournament and a lot of soccer to be played in my career.”
The 23-year-old Shea scored his first U.S. goal just five minutes into his substitute cameo against the Ticos. He had replaced Jose Torres out on the left flank and was instructed by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to “make his runs” and “try to be dangerous”, things he did to great effect on a lightning-fast counter attack that originated from a Sean Johnson save off a corner kick and culminated with Shea’s strike from approximately 15 yards out.
“It’s not hard to miss that hair streaking down the other side of the field,” said Landon Donovan, who assisted on Shea’s goal. “I just wanted to put it in a good spot for him so he could take a touch. After the other day, he felt bad about his performance and you could tell in the reaction by all of us how happy we were for him that he got that goal and got the win for us.”
Happy might be an understatement. The U.S. bench erupted into pure bliss after seeing Shea’s shot beat Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton, knowing full well the hardships that Shea has recently endured at both the international and club levels.
Still, Klinsmann was keen to point out during his postgame press conference that it is normal for young players like Shea to go through ups and downs in their careers and stated that giving them opportunities when possible is key in their development regardless of the mistakes they make.
“You’ve got to build them,” said Klinsmann, who was being questioned aplenty by fans and media when Shea took off his warmups and walked over to midfield to check into the game. “Keep on building them, giving them opportunities whenever possible and make them understand that they only get better through a lot of work.”
In search of a goal, Klinsmann turned to Shea late in Tuesday’s match despite his forgettable outing against Cuba. Shea endured a rough 45-minute performance that included a plethora of turnovers and poor touches that stifled the U.S. attack in that game, and few believed that he would be used again in the Gold Cup.
Shea’s performance Tuesday surely changed all that. Yes, it may have been just one game, but it could be what sparks a fine run of form for Shea, who has learned now more than ever to take things in stride.
“It’s soccer. You have up days and down days and I’ve had a lot of down days lately,” said Shea. “Today was good for me. It puts all that (criticism) behind, so it doesn’t matter.”