The backstory to the U.S.-Ghana match in the World Cup tonight was that the Black Stars had eliminated the United States from the last two World Cups.
But if, as the Klingon saying goes, “revenge is a dish best served cold,” then the U.S. fell a little short.
In brutal conditions at Estadio das Dunas in the Brazilian state of Natal, where players were dropping like flies as a result of the high humidity, substitute John Brooks headed in a corner cross from fellow sub Graham Zusi at the 86th minute to give the U.S. men’s soccer team a dramatic 2-1 victory.
The win was tempered with the knowledge that the U.S. lost their best offensive player for the remainder of the tournament. Striker Jozy Altidore went down with a bad hamstring injury while making a long run down the left sideline. It is doubtful he will come back before the tournament ends.
Forward Clint Dempsey of Everton in the Premier League opened the scoring with a brilliant run through traffic with just 34 second gone in the game. FIFA says it was the 6th fastest goal scored in World Cup history.
But the anemic U.S. offense failed to generate anything for the next 85 minutes. Ghana was constantly on the U.S. side of the field, looking ever more dangerous as cross after cross went into the box. But the U.S. defense — much maligned prior to the World Cup — stood the gaff nicely. And goalkeeper Tim Howard — considered one of the best goalies in the world — made excellent decisions about when to come off his line and when to smother the ball, as well as making two spectacular saves in the second half.
He needed to be at the top of his game:
Ghana might have levelled on the stroke of half-time when Christian Atsu raced down the right flank before finding Jordan Ayew, but the Marseille forward’s side-footed finish was tame.
However, it was a sign of things to come as, in the second half, Ghana began to lay siege to the U.S. goal. Asamoah Gyan was presented with a prime opportunity to level with just over an hour played but, as he turned to shoot inside the area, Geoff Cameron was able to make the block.
The U.S. were able to punctuate the pressure with the occasional chance of their own but an equaliser duly arrived on 82 minutes, when Gyan’s clever backheel allowed Andre Ayew the space to find the net.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s men reacted instantly: Graham Zusi sent over a corner for fellow substitute Brooks to head home and restore their lead on 86 minutes to secure a valuable victory.
The U.S. was simply unable to maintain any kind of possession in the second half. Midfielder Michael Bradley, usually an offensive force, played a horrible game. He gave away at least three touches, steered several passes out of bounds, and instead of his usual crisp, accurate through balls, he laid a lot of wet noodles out there to his teammates that the Black Stars easily intercepted.
But Bradley excelled at the defensive end, as he successfully kept the Ghanian playmakers from operating with too much freedom. It is likely that coach Jurgen Klinsman will continue to ask Bradley to hang back more and cover, especially on the left side where DaMarcus Beasley needed help covering the speedy Ghanian wingers.
Brooks replaced centerback Matt Besler who tweaked his hamstring in the first half. The 21-year old Hertha Berlin product is the first American to score a goal in his World Cup debut since Clint Mathis pulled it off in 2002. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
But Ghana, as good and talented a side as they are, is not Portugal or Germany. Both of those teams have the ability and talent to break down the U.S. defense over the course of 90 minutes. Portugal’s international star Ronaldo can do that by himself. If the U.S. expects to get at least a result out of either of those two games, they better find a way to generate some consistent offense. Otherwise, their back line will be exposed to the devastating attacks of Germany and Ronaldo’s magical runs.
But for now, the U.S. can celebrate a gutsy, well-deserved win over their nemesis, Ghana. Going forward without Altidore is a big problem, but solving it can wait until tomorrow. Given that out of 23 World Cup matches since 1990, the U.S. side has won only 5, they might be excused for living in the moment and savoring the victory.