EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Jurgen Klinsmann is searching for a few good men. Nearly two dozen of them, actually.
When the World Cup rolls around in Brazil next year, he hopes to have 22 interchangeable parts on the U.S. national team.
In a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Tuesday night that gave the Americans their group title in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Klinsmann's willingness to reserve judgment — as well as his seemingly inexhaustible faith in most of his players — paid off again.
Brek Shea, who didn't expect to get off the bench after he struggled in an earlier Gold Cup appearance, scored his first international goal off a feed from Landon Donovan in the 82nd minute. Seconds before that, fourth-string goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a brilliant save off a corner kick and Joe Corona cleared the ball, setting up the winning sequence.
Three youngsters and the wily veteran Donovan stepped up at the perfect time.
"It's good giving them a taste of these kind of battles," Klinsmann said of using multiple lineups. "We'll keep on building this and giving them opportunities whenever possible.
"I am happy for them, they deserve these opportunities. We have a lot of young players coming through the ranks. All these players, we need to carefully build them and support them when things go wrong. Eventually, it will pay off."
Klinsmann is seeking to make his personnel decisions for Brazil 2014 as difficult as possible by developing unprecedented depth in the U.S. program. Already, his team has set a national mark with eight straight victories as it heads to Baltimore on Sunday for the knockout rounds.
The Americans will play El Salvador, while Costa Rica gets Honduras.
Donovan, trying to work his way back into a starring role on the national team after a self-imposed hiatus, showed why he has been the backbone of U.S. soccer with what Klinsmann and Shea both termed "a perfect pass" for the goal. Donovan took the ball on the right side and quickly spotted Shea, who came on just five minutes earlier, streaking down the middle.
Donovan's pass hit Shea in stride, and the Stoke City player sent a left-footed shot from 15 yards off goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton and in for the winner, the Americans' eighth straight victory, a team record.
"Brek made a great run," Donovan said. "Sometimes when a team has their whole team behind the ball defensively, you have to make a special play. That's absolutely the guy we want to have score that goal."
Shea was grateful to Donovan for the feed, and thankful Klinsmann hadn't lost confidence in him.
"It's good," Shea said. "First U.S. goal, only goal of the game, it wins the group. Really good."
Shea's goal broke a 785-minute string without being scored upon for Costa Rica. It followed Johnson making a clutch stop on Carlos Johnson.
"Once I made the save, we just tried to get it out of there," Sean Johnson said. "Then I saw it cleared and we're breaking the other way. It created an opportunity and we finished it."
The match was played in slightly different conditions than the last time the nations met. That was in a blizzard in Denver, with the United States edging Costa Rica 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier. Tuesday night, there was plenty of moisture on the pitch just before kickoff, but it came from sprinklers trying to keep the turf in shape during a northeastern heat wave.
With both sides already having clinched moving on in the CONCACAF championship, not much happened offensively until late in the match in front of 25,432.
Early in the second half, Costa Rica captain Pemberton came out of his net, collided with a teammate outside the area and then had the ball hit him squarely in the hands. He was given only a yellow card, however, then immediately made saves on Jose Torres' curling free kick and Donovan's shot off a rebound.
That sequence opened up play for a while, but then it deteriorated into sloppiness and some roughness in midfield between teams with no love lost.
U.S. captain DaMarcus Beasley took a nasty spill and was run over by Rodney Wallace early in the match. A woozy Beasley sat out three minutes before returning — and almost immediately stripped the ball from Wallace.
His teammates struggled to link up, showing their lack of familiarity with each other, through the first 20 minutes. Indeed, neither goalkeeper was particularly threatened until U.S. defender Clarence Goodson got free on the left side of the box late in the first half. His left-footed drive was deflected out of bounds by the defense.
Costa Rica played a tightly packed defensive style for much of the match, but coach Jorge Luis Pinto felt his players handled themselves well.
"The only thing we lacked was getting the goal," Pinto said. "The United States got the goal, we didn't."
Notes: The other quarterfinals have Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba vs. Panama on Saturday in Atlanta. ... Costa Rica had won eight straight internationals. ... The shutout was the first against the Ticos in 12 Gold Cup matches. ... The United States is 13-12-6 all-time against Costa Rica.