COMMENTARY | The Gold Cup isn't about style points or winning pretty. A tournament that features B-teams and squads that are mostly unrecognizable to the casual viewer, our region's version of the Euro is won via scrappy play and goals that often come from nothing. The United States Men's National Team were undeniably the better side in their Tuesday evening showdown with Costa Rica, and the hosts deserved all of the points.
It's the way that they found a late game-winner that should leave US fans believing that this competition will end with the Americans hoisting a trophy.
United States 1-0 Costa Rica: Jose Torres
It would be a disservice to review this match without mentioning the play of Jose Torres during his 71-minute shift. While the US attack was largely log-jammed by Costa Rica playing five at the back and placing ten players behind the ball, Torres was the only real creative mind in the American midfield, picking out through balls and crosses that would have, on other nights, resulted in goals. Granted, he did tail off a bit after his bending free kick was denied by goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he was the best US player on the pitch for the first hour of the contest.
United States 1-0 Costa Rica: The hand-ball
There have been plenty of differing opinions on the Pemberton hand-ball that occurred early in the second half. Here's what we know for sure: The goalkeeper was well out of the penalty area when a strike was fired toward his goal. He, either in reaction to the shot or in a blatant attempt to keep the ball out of his goal, raised both hands and deflected the attempt away from danger. A teammate standing behind him doesn't mean that the 'keeper using his hands in that scenario should not result in a red card.
I spoke to multiple referees about this incident following the match. Each told me that they would have sent Pemberton off had they been in charge of Tuesday's affair. That the Costa Rica goalkeeper brilliantly denied two attempts on goal almost immediately after the hand-ball incident goes to show just how much one wrong call made by a ref can affect the outcome of a game.
United States 1-0 Costa Rica: The Goal
The lone tally of the match that was netted eight minutes from time featured a "who's who" of US players who have, at some point, found themselves out of favor with coach Jurgen Klinsmann and/or American supporters. It all started when Sean Johnson deflected a header onto the crossbar via the best acrobatic save of his national team career. An overly-nervy clearance ended with the ball being sent out to the right wing toward Landon Donovan, who expertly delivered a one-touch pass to the center of the pitch toward the streaking Brek Shea. Shea got behind a ball-watching defender before hitting what was, truth be told, an ugly shot that Pemberton got a hand to but nevertheless found the back of the net.
Johnson. Donovan. Shea. All three outcasts among US Soccer fans for both on and off the field reasons. All three heroes on the pitch on Tuesday. It was, as Deadspin put it, the "Most American Goal That Has Ever Been Scored."
The US will likely need more like it if they are to win their final game of this competition.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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