US Men's National Team fans waited through nearly 4 days of games before finally being able to see the Red, White, and Blue take the field. After months and months of talk the team truly left everything on the field as a showdown with Ghana meant more than just 3 points, it was a must win game for both sides and a chance for past loses to be avenged.
If you were late to your seat or stuck in the beer line (like this blogger almost was) you would have missed the 5th fastest goal in World Cup history as Clint Dempsey put the United States on top. A quick combination play, a moment of brilliance from an in form and confident Dempsey and a kiss off the far post meant the game was completely turned on its head from the very beginning. Before Ghana could even realize the game had started the USMNT had multiple opportunities to go up 2 or 3 to 0 in the first 18 minutes. Unfortunately, only Dempsey was on the score-sheet and Ghana would begin climbing their way back into the game.
After the initial overload, it was painfully obvious how the Ghana attacking strategy was laid out. Time after time down the field the Ghanaian attack came down the right hand side, directly going after DeMarcus Beasley and crossed into the middle. The centerbacks held strong and Beckermand and Jones were all over the field, forcing only glancing headers and long range shots to be directed towards goal. With Ghana taking control of the possession and the USMNT looking to hit on the counterattack, that is when things started going south for the US.
First Jozy Altidore pulled up with a hamstring injury that took all the air out of the AO watch party in Lancaster, PA for a good 5-10 minutes. It was heartbreaking to see the forward being carried off the field and wondering if that was the extent of his World Cup. Aron Johannsson was brought on to fill his void, but did not live up to the play expected of Altidore. Who will play this role against Portugal will be hotly debated this week.
Next up was Clint Dempsey's turn to add an injury.Ghana defender John Boye jumped to contest a header and somehow brought his foot high enough to clobber Dempsey in the face, breaking his nose. This wasn't enough to keep the Texan down as he merely had his nose stuffed with gauze and returned to the field. Matt Besler wasn't as lucky though as he also pulled up lame shortly after. Even though he was able to carry on until the half, John Brooks would replace him at halftime. It should also be mentioned that many of Americans looked to be in discomfort at random times throughout the game after challenges including, but not limited to Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, and Jermaine Jones.
The Ghanaian seige of the USMNT penalty box continued into the second half, until one of the few attacks down the left hand side would result in an equalizing goal in the 82nd minute. As Tim Howard was caught moving across the goal as the shot was fired near post, the final result was dangerously poised to go in either direction. The Americans were exhausted, limping, and looked more like a boxer on the ropes than a team that could make any effort to climb back on top. That is when a push forward resulted in an American corner kick.
Up lumbered John Anthony Brooks, the young German American center back that up until a month ago looked like a long shot to make the team. Graham Zusi struck an outswinging corner kick who found the centerback's head, who perfectly executed an attacking header, putting the shot into the ground just in front of the keeper. As the ball hit the back of the net and Brooks wheeled away to celebrate, I'm sure there were people in Europe awaken by the roar of the American Outlaws in bars across the country going crazy. I know it will be a moment I will never forget.
Through 5 minutes of stoppage time the Americans held on, turning back shot after shot and clearing every cross Ghana could muster. The final whistle has never sounded sweeter and the USMNT had taken a huge step towards successfully navigating the Group of Death.
Now there is plenty more work to be done in Brazil and there were major issues that will need to be worked out. Those issues include the injuries and breaking down of conditioning across the roster, long stretches where the stars of the team disappeared, and a left side of defense that was overwhelmed most of the night. Those issues will need to be addressed and corrected by the time they take on a Portugal side that has their backs up against the wall.
Good luck to Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff as they take on those issues this week in training, but for now, lets savor this victory. Take some time over the next few days to go through some of the celebration videos that are sure to pop up on social media. This is what the World Cup is all about and it is a night to remember.