CHICAGO — Brek Shea sure knows how to make an entrance.
Just 42 seconds after coming into the game as a substitute Sunday, Shea pounced after Landon Donovan whiffed a shot and poked the ball into the net. His goal in the 69th minute gave the United States a 1-0 victory over Panama and the CONCACAF Gold Cup title. It is the fifth Gold Cup title for the Americans, but their first since 2007. It also is the first international title as a coach for Jurgen Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship with Germany.
"It doesn't matter who scored today," Shea said. "We won."
The U.S. is doing a lot of that lately.
This was the 11th straight victory for the Americans, four more than their previous record, and they likely will leapfrog Mexico as the best team from the North and Central America and Caribbean region when the next FIFA rankings come out Aug. 8.
When the final whistle sounded, the Americans on the field began celebrating while the rest of the team raced off the bench. Several players jumped up and down, and hugs and high-fives were exchanged. Klinsmann, who watched the game from a luxury box after being suspended for his tirade over the officiating in the semifinal, quickly made his way down to the field, pumping his fists in the air as he walked.
"They wanted to send out a signal that they are the best group in CONCACAF, and they are," Klinsmann said. "For today."
But their performance in this tournament is likely to stay with the Americans for a while. At least until the next round of World Cup qualifying in September. Not only did they outscore opponents 20-4 in the tournament — no other team had more than 11 goals — but they showed they are deeper than they've ever been, with one young player after another stepping up.
And one veteran, too.
Despite his big whiff, Donovan was selected the tournament MVP. He finished with five goals and seven assists, a particularly impressive performance considering it followed a four-month sabbatical over the winter that cost him his place on the national team.
"In terms of just having fun, it's up there," Donovan said. "I'm just enjoying being part of it, I really am."
Though Klinsmann picks his roster based on form, not reputation, he acknowledged it would be almost impossible to leave Donovan off the roster for the next round of qualifying.
"He deserves every compliment for this tournament," Klinsmann said.
The only disappointment for the Americans was the loss of Stuart Holden with another right knee injury. Holden sprained his knee early in the first half, and while he will have further tests, Klinsmann said after the game that "it's not looking good."
"We are very, very sad for him," Klinsmann said. "We are very concerned about Stuey's situation. It looks like a very serious knee injury."
While most expected a Mexico-US final, Panama had other ideas, upsetting El Tri twice on the strength of its stingy defense. Panama was just as dogged against the Americans early, crowding Donovan and Eddie Johnson and not giving the U.S. any space.
But rather than taking wild shots or trying to force things, the Americans stayed patient.
"At times it may have been a little slow or been going back and forth, but we stuck to the game plan," Besler said.
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