By Dylan Butler
EAST HARTFORD, Connecticut – You only get one chance to make a first impression, but United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is adamant about giving his younger players a second chance.
Such was the case with Brek Shea on Tuesday night at Rentschler Field. The midfielder struggled in the first half against Cuba on Saturday in Sandy, Utah, but Klinsmann still called on him with 13 minutes left in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group C decider against Costa Rica.
Shea repaid the confidence of his coach by scoring the game’s lone goal in the 82nd minute – his first in a U.S. team jersey – to lift the United States to a 1-0 victory and clinch Group C.
“Obviously Brek didn’t feel good about how it went the other night,” Landon Donovan said. “We all could see that and feel that this week. Jurgen stuck behind him and gave him another chance and he rewarded him.”
The U.S. players mobbed Shea on the field, demonstrating how happy they were that the 23-year-old bounced back so quickly. In the post-goal pandemonium, Stuart Holden pulled Shea aside and said one word.
Shea said he isn’t sure what happened at Rio Tinto Stadium, but he knows that things went pear-shaped pretty quickly.
“I think I started out the game fine, I don’t think it was nervousness or anything,” Shea said. “It was my first start in a long time. I think it was more once I had a bad play, it just spiraled down on me. I think I was thinking too much.”
Klinsmann subbed Shea off at halftime, but he made sure not to bury him on the end of his bench.
“All these [young] players, we need to carefully build them and help them and support them when things go wrong, when they have a bad game,” Klinsmann said. “Sooner or later it will pay off.”
In Shea’s case, it was sooner. Just three days later, he was subbed on for Jose Francisco Torres in a double switch that also saw Herculez Gomez replace Chris Wondolowski in the late stages of a tense scoreless draw with Costa Rica.
“It makes me feel good that I got out there and erased those feelings,” Shea said. “The only way to erase those is to get back out there.”
Shea’s clinical finish was the final piece of a pivotal and decisive sequence for the U.S. It started with goalkeeper Sean Johnson making a remarkable save on Carlos Johnson’s back-post header off a Celso Borges corner kick.
Joe Corona found Donovan with a long ball and the influential midfielder played what Klinsmann called “a perfect ball” to a streaking Shea. The Stoke City midfielder took a first touch and then put the ball off the hands of and past Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton from 16 meters.
“With young players, the goal is to try to get them into situations where they have a chance to be successful,” Donovan said. “If you leave Brek out for the next few games, you don’t see him again, maybe he’s thinking about it for a long time..it’s good that he was able to put that behind him and more forward now.”