For more than an hour Sunday, the U.S. men's soccer team was stymied by Panama's efficient defense and their own tight play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. But less than one minute after substitute Brek Shea entered the game, he tapped the match's lone goal into the net and sealed the championship.
The 1-0 victory at Chicago's Soldier Field extended the Americans' winning streak to a record 11 games and opened the door to a possible U.S. appearance in the elite Confederations Cup in 2017. An announced crowd of nearly 58,000 attended the title match.
U.S. forward Landon Donovan, the lone American to start all six games in the tournament, was named its most valuable player.
The winning goal came after Panama's defense had repelled a U.S. strike. But the ball found its way to American Alejandro Bedoya, who snapped a low pass toward the net as Donovan crossed into the penalty area. Donovan took a stab at the ball, but missed. As it headed toward the net, Shea made sure of the goal by tapping the ball in from the left corner.
"Alejandro cut onto his left foot, it deflected off one of their defenders, rolled in front of me and I took a mighty swing at it and missed," Donovan said. "But it was enough to throw the goalie off and was a tap-in for Brek."
The Gold Cup title is the fifth for the U.S. men's team, which is hoping to compete in next year's World Cup in Brazil. In the qualifying round, the team currently leads its regional group, with 13 points. The Gold Cup is seen as a chance for players to prove they should be on the roster when the team travels to Brazil.
"By far the best team of the tournament was the United States," said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who watched the game from a suite after being penalized for his sideline behavior in the previous match.
"We all know that there are different benchmarks out there. The global game is played in South America and it's played in Europe and there are a lot of other benchmarks waiting for us," Klinsmann said, "but it's time that you see progress from this group of players. They all understand that it takes a lot more to become really good."