KENYA BROWN - Tuesday, June 17, 2014
The curse that had been cast over the United States national team by Ghana was finally exorcised on Monday night.
An early goal from captain Clint Dempsey and another from second half substitute John Brooks gave the team a 2-1 win over the Black Stars at Arena das Dunas and a big three points in what has been deemed as the "group of death."
U. S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the players knew how important it was to get their FIFA World Cup campaign off to a good start. They also talked highly about how they wanted to defeat their nemesis from the past two World Cups. It was going to be a tough challenge for the U.S. against a talented Ghanaian side, but despite being outplayed for long stretches - and allowing an equalizer - the team held their nerve to score the late game-winner and place themselves in good position to progress to the knockout stage.
Despite the win, the U.S. coaching staff will have to be concerned about the way the team played as they spent more time defending than attacking Ghana's goal. Distributing the ball was another concern as once the U.S. took possession of the ball they would give right back to the opposition as stats showed that Ghana held the ball 59 percent of the time. The status of injured players Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler will also come into question as both left the game with hamstring injuries.
But no one can take away from the effort and never-say-die attitude the team displayed as they now head into their June 22 encounter against Portugal brimming with even more confidence.
The U.S. has a tendency to be slow starters in the World Cup, but the first goal from Dempsey - the fifth fastest in World Cup history - put all the pressure on Ghana to answer.
It seemed as though the answer would not take that long as the African side spent long periods of time in the American's end. However, the U.S. defense - what many considered to be a weak link in the team - would stand its ground and goalkeeper Tim Howard made a few key saves to halt the Ghanaian attack.
Ghana did very well to find space on the right side of the field as U.S. left back DaMarcus Beasley had a difficult time stopping crosses from coming into the box. Luckily, none of them would find themselves in the American's goal.
The U.S. midfield of Jones, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Alejandoro Bedoya had a slightly above average outing on the night as they had difficulty holding on to the ball and struggled to complete passes.
Beckerman did an outstanding job of not overdoing things and was vital in breaking up some of the Ghanaian attacks through the middle. Jones supplied Dempsey with the pass that got the team's first goal and did well defensively. It was probably one of his better games in the U.S. shirt. Bradley had an off night as he could not get anything going offensively. His passing was not as effective as it has been normally, but he also did well on the defensive side. Bedoya also had a fairly good game despite his inability to connect with his teammates in passing the ball. He showed a tremendous work rate, but had to be subbed out as he cramped up.
Fabian Johnson was not able to get involved in the attack as he would have liked, but he did well defensively on his side of the field. The only down side was him losing track of Andre Ayew in the final third, which led to him scoring the equalizer for the Ghanaians.
Altidore, who came off scoring two goals against Nigeria, did have a good opportunity to score early in the game, but may be missed for the next game as he went down with a hamstring injury and had to be stretchered off the field.
The Sunderland man is a vital player up top for the U.S. as he is able to hold up the ball and open up the attack. Depending on the severity of his injury, Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski will have to step up when the Americans face their next opponents.
Dempsey's early goal was much needed to fire up the U.S. However, it was a rather quiet night for the captain as it was the team's inability to string together passes that prevented him from being more effective.
The man of the night though was Berlin-born Brooks. The 21-year-old, who came into the game with just four caps, was one of the players highly criticized for being selected to the 23-man roster. Called in to replace the injured Besler, Brooks got off to a shaky start, but quickly acquitted himself to the game and provided the exciting moment in the last minutes of regulation.
A corner by fellow sub Graham Zusi would find the Hertha Berlin man, who broke away from his marker, to head it past Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey to seal an important win for the Americans.
Once ridiculed, the big man is now a hero to U.S. soccer fans.
This game was not pretty - and the team certainly knows it - but they have accomplished a big step to raise their chances of coming out of Group G. There is a lot of work left to be done, but on this night the boys deserve to celebrate before heading back in to training for their next game.
Tonight's win should also eliminate any further talk about Klinsmann's controversial comments in the New York Times. These boys had no doubt that they could play on this stage and they proved it throughout the 90-plus minutes.
Now, it is time to get ready for Portugal.