Who isn’t proud to be American after that match? Wow. To anyone out there who doesn’t watch much soccer and tuned in to be patriotic, I hope this game convinced you that the beautiful game can be pretty damn exciting. Much will be written about John Brooks being the new American hero. But there were thirteen other heroes playing beside him tonight. It was mostly ugly, but at times, it was beautiful.
Dempsey’s opening goal was beyond huge for the U.S. Simply looking at Jürgen Klinsmann’s reaction will tell you how unexpected that was. Played in by the excellent Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey showed everyone why he is America’s captain and talisman with his three gorgeous touches and finish. It was a dream start that no one could have predicted.
For the next twenty or so minutes, the U.S. looked comfortable allowing Ghana possession and looking to counter. But Jozy Altidore’s injury changed the match dramatically, as it forced the U.S. to abandon any hope of holding up an attack. From that point on, there was very little offered going forward, and the Black Stars were free to attack at will.
The core of the United States defense was immense, as Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron looked like they’d finally formed a formidable pair in central defense. But injury woes struck again, and the inexperienced John Brooks was sent on for Besler. In front of the back four were Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, who hardly put a foot wrong. Those two were my personal men of the match, as there tackling was near perfect, halting many Ghanaian attacks when they were on the verge of crisis. Not many would have expected this pairing to be the main performers in midfield, but they outshone Michael Bradley on this day.
As well as the defense was holding up, Andre Ayew’s goal was a long-time coming for Ghana, as they had dominated play since Altidore’s injury. After the goal, I would have taken the draw. But the substitutes made Klinsmann a genius on this day, with Graham Zusi’s corner driven in for Brooks’s winner minutes after Ghana had tied it. In many ways, the U.S. didn’t deserve this goal, as they hadn’t attacked in any serious fashion for what felt like years. But Brooks made his chance count, and he will forever be an American hero for it.
The U.S. now finds themselves in a great position in Group G. But as we all knew going in, a win over Ghana won’t be enough in this group. While this win boosts the American spirit, there is much work left to do. Ghana was supposed to be our easiest game, so the challenge will only increase. Cristiano Ronaldo will be an entirely new challenge. The thought of him running at this defense remains terrifying, even after tonight. Earning a point against Portugal is doable, but certainly not easy.
If the U.S. hopes to advance, a few things will need to improve from tonight’s game. Most importantly, the training staff will need to find a way to keep the players on the field. With Altidore likely out for the considerable future, the U.S. can’t afford to lose anyone else. With more cramping a possibility due to Manaus’s jungle climate, keeping everyone healthy might be the biggest challenge of all. Klismann was able to survive tonight with only one second half substitution, but he will need all three in the later half of the game in the Amazon.
Personnel wise, I want to see more from Michael Bradley. He was solid today, but he was not the player the Americans will be counting on to lead this team past Portugal. And in extra time, he made a strange decision to send in a cross when he could have brought the ball to the corner. It was a rookie mistake that could have been costly, one he can’t make again. The German attacking midfielders found success against Portugal, so it will be up to Bradley to up his game on Sunday. Another player that needs to be better is DeMarcus Beasley. He looked suspect way too many times tonight, and will be picked on more and more by more ruthless teams. Lastly, whoever fills Altidore’s boots, be it Johannsson or Wondolowski, will need to be strong on the ball, if not a goalscoring threat. The more pressure that can be relieved away from the defense, the better.
After all that, we can all take a breath. Today is a great day to be American. We are on cloud nine. But when we wake up tomorrow, all will not be perfect. Today’s performance was gutsy. But against Portugal, the U.S. will need more than heart and guts. We have the potential to do great things in this World Cup. Now, we must continue to find ways to win. What a day to be an American.