US 2, Ghana 1
FINAL: THE US HANGS ON, BEATS GHANA 2-1
A little known sub, possibly the least likely man to score for the US, may have changed the team's fortunes this World Cup.
John Brooks was thrust into the backline after Matt Besler went down with a hamstring injury and his 86th-minute goal gave the US a decisive 2-1 lead that it wouldn't give up. Off a Graham Zusi corner, Brooks rose up and pounded the ball into the ground and it one-hopped into the net past Ghana's keeper.
"We have a great spirit. The US team always has a great spirit and fights until the last second. It was a little bit of a shock that Jozy got injured. It was a grind, but a wonderful win at the end of the day," Klinsmann said following the stunning victory.
Brooks' goal came just four minutes after Ghana had tied it up, and it appeared that this Group G thriller was headed for a draw. But despite relentless pressure from Ghana's wingers, the US managed to fend off a ceaseless attack and work the ball up for the game-changing (hell, World Cup changing, if you're America) corner.
The US avenged its 2006 and 2010 losses to Ghana on Monday evening with a heart-pounding victory that may have shifted Group G's fortunes as well, especially after Germany's thrashing of Portugal earlier on Monday.
Clint Dempsey got the US on the board a mere :32 seconds into Monday's match, but for the next seventy-odd minutes, it was all Ghana. Tim Howard was outstanding, as was center back Geoff Cameron. The defense, which came into the World Cup with so many doubts, stood stall even as exhaustion and injuries took their toll.
Tireless midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones each showed exemplary hustle, trekking back often to help boost the US's inexperienced backline. Both played a physicial style that was absolutely necessary against Ghana, which was eager to go cleat-up a bit too often.
The lasting image from this game will be Brooks' header, but Dempsey stayed in even after taking a foot to the face. With the win, he'll take a possible broken nose.
Besler left the game at halftime, but the bigger injury and cause for concern moving forward has to be Jozy Altidore, who pulled his hamstring chasing down a pass from Michael Bradley. For now, injury concerns aren't on the minds of the US team, though, as it can revel in a wonderful, tone-setting victory.
94' -- A bit more defending and the US have the ball with just a minute left. Ghana may have one more spurt in them before the whistle blows.
93' -- Must be noted that Brooks is one of five German-Americans Klinsmann included on this roster.
92' -- Muntari draws a yellow off another hard challenge against Dempsey. Don't expect the physical play to let up in the final few minutes.
91' -- Five minutes of added time left. Nails gone. Blood pressure up. Let's do this.
History: Broadcast notes that that was the first US goal from a sub in World Cup history. Not a bad time to score, kid.
Brooks took Zusi's wonderful cross (I told you he was the set-piece king) and bounced it with pace. Suddenly this is the US's game to lose. Hold on boys.
86' -- GOAL!!!! JOHNNY BROOKS!!! The sub finishes off that hard-earned corner with a bouncing header into the net and the US takes the lead!!
85' -- Corner coming off some more good work up top from Fabian Johnson. He's at his best when he pinches up.
85' -- The US looks absolutely stunned that it worked so hard for 82 minutes only to give that up.
US needs to re-group or risk losing to Ghana for a third-straight World Cup by a score of 2-1. Keep an eye on Beckerman and Bradley, the two most fit players on the roster.
82' -- GOAL!!!! GHANA!! Andre Ayew ties it up off a beautiful left-footed shot with the outside of his foot to the near post. Damn. Incredible heel flick from Gyan to set that up.
79' -- This feels like an NHL overtime as the US continues to withstand their attack. Heart-stopping.
78' -- Another great step from Cameron spurs the counter attack, and finally, the US has held the ball in Ghana's zone. Dempsey finally pulls the trigger, but it didn't have a lot on it. Still, encouraging that the US can hold the ball. Perhaps Ghana is tiring in sweltering Natal.
76' -- Bedoya looked a bit gimpy early but played through it. His defense and vision were superb this evening. On comes the set-piece king, Graham Zusi.
75' -- Another crisis averted off a dangerous cross from Asamoah. Looks like Zusi is coming on for an exhausted Bedoya. Final sub.
74' -- Gotta love that Dempsey is back, fending off this pressure from Ghana. No use in staying up top when the ball has been deep inside the US's zone for 75 percent of this half.
72' -- Michael Essien comes on in the midfield for Rabiu. Have to wonder why he wasn't starting.
71' -- The US looks like it's settled down a bit in the last 10 minutes, but part of the problem has been Michael Bradley. He's had surprisingly little impact. Beckerman and Jones have been the studs in the midfield.
70' -- Jermaine Jones with another vital tackle along the left side. He thrives in these physical, gritty games.
Fingernails are dwindling in Chicago --
68' -- Aron Johannsson earns a corner. More importantly, the defense (re. Tim Howard) can breathe. The keeper misses the ball off the kick, but there's no one to finish. Ugh.
66' -- Klinsmann is smiling. WHY ARE YOU SMILING?
64' -- Geoff Cameron with a vital block in the box off a wide-open Gyan shot. He's been a rock in the back both with his foot and in the air.
30 minutes. Hold me.
— Jerry Hinnen (@JerryHinnen) June 16, 2014
62' -- Fabian Johnson now down after a challenge from behind via Andre Ayew ... who yesterday predicted that Ghana wouldn't lose to the US. We'll see...
60' -- Injuries to Altidore and Besler really putting Klinsmann in a bind in terms of subs. Defense needs a sub, but probably can't risk it with no more subs available.
Please: Can the US call a timeout? Let's call a timeout.
SUB: Kevin-Prince Boateng in for Jordan Ayew. Boateng scored the first goal against the US in 2010.
58' -- Gyan again, but the header was a bit wide. The US with nothing doing offensively and it's just sitting back and taking this pressure.
57' -- Possession's gotta be around 65-35 in favor of Ghana throughout the first 12 minutes of the second. Maybe worse.
56' -- Very next sequence and Muntari shows a beautiful cross to Gyan who heads it over the goal. Something's coming, and it's not in the US's favor. Brooks got exposed there.
55' -- Muntari blasts one wide left from five yards past the box and the question is how long can the defense take this pounding?
53' -- Interesting that Damarcus Beasley continues to push up so high on the attack when Ghana is clearly focused on penetrating that side. Yes, he's fit, but Jermaine Jones has covered him now twice.
UPDATE: Matt Besler was pulled as a precautionary measure in lieu of a tight hamstring. Klinsmann couldn't risk a gimpy centerback ... he'll live and die with Brooks. Beckerman and Jones dropping back to help.
50' -- Brooks with an awful clearance and the US is bailed out after drawing a foul on Asamoah Gyan. Feel like there's going to be at least four or five more tense moments like that.
49' -- Feel like we haven't mentioned Fabian Johnson's name at all. Probably because Ghana's attack isn't going anywhere near that side. Jermaine Jones drops back to help out with the unease along the left side.
47' -- Bad turnover from Bedoya on the counter and Ghana nearly finds itself one-vs-one against Howard. Danger averted.
SUB: John Brooks in for Matt Besler. Certainly looked like that hamstring for Besler. Brooks played one half against Nigeria with Cameron in the back. Baptism by fire, and here we go.
HALFTIME: US maintains a 1-0 lead
Dempsey goal. Altidore injury. Dempsey nose. That's the first half in a nutshell.
Clint Dempsey swerved a step inside the box and rifled a shot to the far right corner to give the Americans the lead just :32 seconds into the match, but chippy play and a few potentially serious injuries marred the US's opening half.
The US's primary striker Jozy Altidore went down with a left hamstring injury and forced Jurgen Klinsmann to sub in Aron Johannsson. Only ten minutes later Dempsey was laying on the ground with a bloody nose after he took a foot to the face from Jordan Boye. To make matters worse, it appeared that centerback Matt Besler came up lame on a late challenge and his status may be in doubt for the second half.
The US withstood a constant barrage of challenges and crosses from the Ghanaians but somehow managed a clean sheet. Tim Howard made a huge sprawling save and defenders Beasley, Besler and Cameron cleared out any stray balls. The US's best chances came from counter attacks, but if the final 20 minutes was any indication, the defense is going to have to pack it in, possibly with Bradley shifting to a more defensive position. Expect more hard challenges as long as the US maintains this lead.
45+' -- US gets bailed out as Damarcus Beasley gets caught up top on the counter attack and Ghana's Jordan Ayew misses a one-touch opportunity. And the US holds on (barely) with a one-goal lead.
45+' -- ANOTHER awful challenge from Sulley Muntari on Jones, and the US really can't afford another injury. Shocked that didn't draw a yellow card. The physicality of this game is something the US was expecting.
45' -- Corner coming for US as we enter stoppage time. Five minutes added after the few injuries.
44' -- Another rough challenge from Opare on Jermaine Jones earns the US a set piece deep inside Ghana's zone. Johannsson could be a target here.
44' -- Ghana is pushing up so high, with such relentless pressure, that the US's only choice is to counter with quick spurts in space.
43' -- Great sequence from the US involving Bedoya, Johannsson and Dempsey almost ends in a US goal. One of the few chances they've had since the first minute.
41' -- Now Besler is holding his right hamstring, but he's staying in. LEAVE US ALONE!!
39' -- Christian Atsu with a solid cross from the right flank deflected over the goal by Gyan. Everything coming down the left side against the US, directly at Besler and Beasley.
37' -- Jozy Altidore officially with a strained left hamstring. Dempsey's still on.
6:36 p.m. ET: Dempsey's nose may be broken after this brutal challenge from Boye:
33' -- And now Dempsey's down with a bloody nose after getting kicked in the face from John Boye. Two strikers down for the US, and Wondolowski is warming up.
32' -- Tim Howard with an outstanding save off a rip from Gyan outside the box. Ghana is getting way, way more chances than the US.
US isn't allowed to call in a replacement if Altidore is out of the tournament.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 16, 2014
30' -- Midfielder Rabiu earns a yellow with a high arm to Beckerman, who's been getting beaten up thus far.
27' -- Ghana continues to pepper the left side of the US's defense. Besler and Beasley bending, but solid so far.
This photo ...
Arrival of Dempsey (Getty Images) pic.twitter.com/JVz0EesSQX— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) June 16, 2014
25' -- Awfully reckless challenge from Jordan Ayew on Kyle Beckerman. Dreadlocks goes down, but looks OK.
22' -- It's Aron Johannsson on for the injured Altidore. The Icelandic-American is always dangerous as a target on set pieces.
21' -- Scary moment as Bradley lofts a ball along the left flank to Altidore, who immediately pulls up lame. Looks like a left hamstring. He's being carried off on a stretcher. It's either Aron Johansson or Chris Wondolowski as a replacement.
14' -- Ghana, specifically Gyan, picking on the US's left back, Damarcus Beasley. Jermaine Jones tracks over to help, and so far there's been no issues.
12' -- Maybe it's because Essien and Boateng aren't playing for Ghana, but the field looks wide open in the center of the pitch. That's Bradley's territory, and he thrives in those counter attack situations.
11' -- A few early clearances and tackles from Geoff Cameron and the backline looks (somewhat) settled. Even had enough communication to hold a high line, drawing an offsides.
9' -- US dominating possession, playing much like Ghana was expected to. They still look stunned.
7' -- Howard tested from an early cross by Asamoah Gyan. Nothing to it as he swallows it up.
5' -- Altidore takes a header near the six, but deflects it wide left. Again, could not have started better.
Prediction: I hope I'm wrong, but I believe that we will ... draw 1-1. Prove me wrong, US.
5:55 p.m. ET: Players on the field. Anthems are being sung. And those World Cup kids are so cute.
5:41 p.m. ET: Weather has held up, and it's a nice night in Natal. There are also a ton of US supporters in the crowd as the stadium roared when the Americans took the field.
Everyone from the President to Drew Brees to members of the US women's team have voiced their support. The US World Cup campaign begins in less than 30 minutes.
Pregame: It's safe to say that the stakes have changed substantially in the wake of Monday's other Group G clash. Germany came away with three points as Portugal got absolutely dismantled. The goal differential, coupled with Pepe's red card, bodes extremely well for the US, if, and only if, it can get a result on Monday evening.
Ghana will be missing two of its key midfielders, at least to start, in Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng. That should in theory give the US an advantage in the neutral zone and on counter attacks, a typical stronghold for Ghana. Look for Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman to take advantage.
American goalkeepers out on the field and the place erupts. I think the #USMNT fans are just a little bit juiced.— Sam Borden (@SamBorden) June 16, 2014
(US fans bought more tickets to the World Cup than any other country besides Brazil).
It's important to remember that although there are certainly wounds from 2010, each team looks distinctly different than it did in South Africa. The US has only six returning players while Ghana has just seven. That should free the US from the burden of playing solely for revenge. Given Monday's news, there seems to be an opening near the top of Group G. Which team can seize that spot?
Starters for Ghana:
OFFICIAL Ghana XI v USA: Kwarasey - Opare, K Asamoah, J Mensah, J Boye, R Mohammed, C Atsu, S Muntari, J Ayew, A Gyan, A Ayew— Gary Al-Smith (@garyalsmith) June 16, 2014
Starters for US:
Match Preview: This game is about exorcising demons for the US. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said that it's a must-win, and for all of his candor, the US manager is dead-on when it comes to needing a result against Ghana with Portugal and Germany looming.
After knocking the US out of the last two World Cups, Ghana needs this result just as badly as the US does, though. The African nation has emerged out of group play throughout the last two World Cups using largely the same recipe -- speed, possession and offense. It scored 18 goals in six qualifying games, and the two players who notched goals to knock the US out in 2010 -- Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng -- are both back. Gyan averaged a goal per game in qualifying.
The US will counter with its recently revived scoring duo of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, both of whom have vast experience in Europe's best leagues. Dempsey, as he was in the last exhibition against Nigeria, should be deployed as an attacking midfielder to help combat Ghana's advantage in the neutral zone and to faciliate on offense. The real battle will be in the midfield, where Ghana usually dominates possession and exhausts its opponents. Much will be asked of Michael Bradley, who will need to contribute on the defensive portion of Klinsmann's formation, but will also be tasked with driving the US possession up the pitch.
Whether the US can get a favorable result largely comes down to its back four. You'll have DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson as the last line of defense before Tim Howard will be called upon. The central backs don't have great chemistry and haven't been in an environment as pressurized as the World Cup. Cameron's club experience will help, but how flawlessly can the line communicate when Ghana is provoking a swift counter attack? It's going to take an entire team effort to take down Ghana, and then, and only then, can the US begin to entertain the thought of advancing and worry about the rest of the Group of Death.
The US has a bad lingering taste in its mouth and claims it has much to prove against the world's elite teams. A win on Monday would make Group G take notice. A loss could render the US campaign over before it gets started.