At times watching 11 American bodies behind the ball as Ghana kept attacking was downright painful. But it was all worth it for that one moment: America’s 21-year old substitute John Brooks running arms aloft in celebration after scoring his country’s second goal in a 2-1 win.
It’s definitely one of the most memorable moments of the tournament. Brooks was speechless; one could say the same of the shell-shocked Ghanaians.
The score might be a little harsh on Ghana, who dominated much of the first and the entire second half, but were wasteful in front of goal. Having fallen behind through Clint Dempsey’s neat finish after just 29 seconds, it took a while for Ghana to settle down, but it soon controlled possession.
Asamoah Gyan, who put the United States to the sword four years ago, was lively but struggled to come up with many clear opportunities. Sulley Muntari bossed the midfield with his physical presence and flashed a long-range shot just wide of Tim Howard’s goal.
In fact, Ghana struggled to find much momentum until the introduction of Kevin-Prince Boateng on the hour mark. Boateng brought not just greater attacking prowess and experience to this young side, but also a sense of urgency. As Ghana continued to surge forward, the ball fell to Gyan, whose cheeky back-heel landed nicely at the feet of Andre Ayew to blast the ball past Howard.
With just eight minutes left on the clock, an exhausted United States side appeared to be deflated, leaving Ghana well-poised to get a third victory over its opponents in as many successive World Cup tournaments. Then up stepped Brooks.
Just four minutes after Ayew appeared to break American hearts, Graham Zusi, who ended up being an inspired substitution by coach Juergen Klinsmann, took an inch-perfect corner for Brooks to head home. In addition to Ghana’s woeful efforts at goal (they had just three out of 21 on target), there was certainly a great deal to be desired for their marking, but for the U.S., it didn’t really matter.
After Portugal received a 4-0 hiding from Germany, America’s quest to qualify from Group G is in their own hands.
Even in victory, however, there is a lot for Klinsmann to ponder. His midfield talisman Michael Bradley had arguably his most disappointing international performance, struggling at times to break up Ghana’s attacks or handing ammunition going forward. For Ghana’s goal, Bradley was stuck in no man’s land.
There are also plenty of concerns in defense where winger-turned-left-back DaMarcus Beasley. The idea of even a half-fit Cristiano Ronaldo coming up against Beasley should give Klinsmann — and the entire country — heartburn.
The U.S. was also hit by the loss of Jozy Altidore, who appeared to pull his hamstring chasing a ball in the first half. His replacement, Aron Johannsson, has excelled in the Dutch Eredivisie this past season but other than a few neat touches, didn’t really get into the game.
On the positive side Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Dempsey shined, although there is plenty of room for improvement. Qualifying from Group G was never going to be easy for the United States. Last night showed that it doesn’t have to be pretty either.
What we learned about … Ghana: Frustrating. Not unlike England against Italy, Ghana had so much of the ball but so very little to show for it. They certainly have a number of effective weapons up-front but other than their goal it’s hard to think of too many clear-cut chances.
But it’s also at the back where they have problems. Their tackling for Dempsey’s opener and marking for Brooks’ winner were downright pathetic. In addition, although he was rarely tested, goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey also looks a little shaky. Boateng added a little extra in the second half, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him start in the next game against the country of his birth, Germany.
What we learned about … the United States: The debates between Alexi Lalas and his fellow pundits about the importance of the U.S. qualifying and playing beautiful soccer are really quite silly. Results — and nothing else — matter. Injuries and underperformance amongst some players certainly gives Klinsmann cause for concern. Altidore is likely out for the tournament and Matt Besler’s fate (both hamstrings) looks uncertain.
After a disappointing performance anchoring the midfield, Bradley also needs to make a huge improvement in his game. Beasley is far from convincing at left-back and was tormented throughout the first half. The lack of alternatives means he’s still likely to start on Sunday against a wounded Portugal.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the U.S., covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for The Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt