CHICAGO (AFP) – Brek Shea scored in the 69th minute to give the United States a 1-0 victory over Panama in Sunday’s title match of the Gold Cup, North America’s biennial continental football championship tournament.
The Americans stretched their team-record win streak to 11 matches and claimed their fifth Gold Cup crown after previously taking the title in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007. Every edition of the event has been played on US soil.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” American captain DaMarcus Beasley said. “I’m at a loss for words. I’m so excited. This is what it’s about, winning championships together.”
With the victory, the U.S. squad booked a date to face the 2015 Gold Cup champion to decide a berth at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
The decisive moment came when a U.S. centering pass was deflected toward the Panama goal. Onrushing Landon Donovan, the all-time U.S. scoring leader, raced for the ball and attracted all attention from Panama’s defenders.
But the ball rolled past Donovan’s outstretched foot and toward the far side of the yawning goal, where Shea raced forward and tapped it across the line.
“I tried to shoot it. It wasn’t my finest moment,” Donovan said. “But fortunately Brek was there to put it in. It has meant a lot to all of us. We had a dream and a goal and I think we once again showed the American experience.”
Donovan, a three-time World Cup standout who has netted five goals in the tournament, has not played in a World Cup qualifier this year after having taken almost four months off between seasons for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But the 31-year-old striker could be poised to return to the top squad for the next US World Cup qualifier on September 6 at Costa Rica and play a key role if the Americans, who top the qualifying table, reach the 2014 World Cup.
“We’ll see for the World Cup,” Donovan said. “We have a lot of guys who weren’t here for the qualifiying. We want to keep pushing each other and keep getting better and better.”
Not all was good news for the U.S. side, however, as Stuart Holden went off with a sprained knee.
Andreas Herzog served as the replacement coach in the match for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German international star who was banned for the match after being sent off in the 87th minute of the semi-final against Honduras for complaining to the referee.
It was a loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final that prompted USA Soccer to dump then-coach Bob Bradley, now the coach of Egypt, and hire Klinsmann.
Overall, the Americans are 12-2-2 this year and their win streak includes three World Cup qualifying triumphs and a friendly victory over Germany last month as well as an unbeaten Gold cup run.
The Americans, who also beat Panama in the 2005 final on penalty kicks, improved to 10-1 with two drawn all-time against Panama, whose only prior trip to the title match came eight years ago.