HARTFORD, Conn. – From goat to hero in a matter of days, Brek Shea’s Gold Cup has already been a lesson in contrast.
As recently as Saturday, Shea was widely panned after a shaky performance against Cuba, labeled a black hole on the US national team’s left flank. On Tuesday night, however, Shea played the protagonist, opening his international account with the all-important goal that sealed a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and the top spot in Group C
And if you thought Shea was impervious to the outside criticism aimed his way over the weekend, think again. He was listening; he just wasn’t paying too much mind.
“It just feels good. A lot of people talked a lot of smack,” Shea said. “I can’t get too high off this, and I can’t get too low off the last game. It’s just one game, one little thing. There’s a lot of games left in this tournament and soccer to be played in my career.”
That mindset jives with the message Shea’s roommate in camp, Stuart Holden, has been driving home since Saturday. One game does not define a player, and Shea made sure against Costa Rica that a poor 45 minutes against Cuba wouldn’t be the only lingering memory from this tournament.
“I know he was disappointed after the last game and didn’t feel as sharp as he has in the past. For a young kid, he really has a strong mentality,” Holden said. “I think that’s important. He really bounced back from that [game against Cuba]. As soon as he scored, I ran over to him and said,‘Redemption. Keep going from here now.’ I hope that really propels him forward and gives him the boost that he needs because he’s a really talented player on his day.”
And it just so happens that another player in search of redemption set up the Stoke City winger for the winner.
That would be Landon Donovan, who’s in the midst of his own well-publicized return to the USMNT fold after a lengthy hiatus. The US leader in both goals and assists collected a pass from Joe Corona on the right flank as the US broke at pace before setting up Shea for a simple finish past Costa Rica 'keeper Patrick Pemberton.
Then Donovan celebrated. Not just because the goal sealed the group’s top spot, but also because of what it meant to his teammate.
“After the other day he felt bad about his performance,” Donovan said, “and you could tell in the reaction by all of us how happy we were that he got that goal and got that win for us.”
Despite his late heroics, it remains to be seen whether Shea will stick around for the remainder of the Gold Cup, as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has the option of swapping out up to four players for the knockout stages in the 24 hours following the match.
Shea was a late add to the tournament roster in the first place, with Klinsmann initially indicating that earning a place at Stoke City was more important in the long run. That would seem to indicate Shea is a prime candidate for replacement, giving him an opportunity to reconvene with his club, but the 23-year-old insisted he’d like to stick around if it was up to him.
No matter where he ends up, though, he’ll arrive in either Baltimore or Stoke-on-Trent with without a bad taste in his mouth, the memory of Saturday’s disappointing showing squarely in the past.
“It’s soccer. You have up days and down days, and I’ve had a lot of down days lately,” Shea said. “Today was good for me. It puts all that behind me.”