US Soccer shocks Ghana 2-1 in World Cup opener


With an unlikely goal in the 86th minute, the United States scored a cardiac 2-1 first win over Ghana in the 2014 World Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s men exorcised the demons their West African opponents unleashed on the Americans in the last two editions of the tournament under Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley. New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff tweeted it best:

From the opening whistle, something was off. Rare is the occasion that you miss a turning point in a match if you don’t get to a TV for kickoff. But Clint Dempsey scored the sixth-fastest goal in tournament history, needing just 34 seconds to become the first American to score in three different World Cups. The notion that the red, white and blue were playing from ahead so early was refreshingly unAmerican.

The captain received Jermaine Jones’ one-touch pass outside the box with a nifty first touch of his own, completely turned around defender John Boye with his second, then slid a left-footed shot past keeper Adam Kwarasey to the inside of the right post.

As euphoric as the moment was, and as bravely as the back-line defended, the Yankee dream of three points was dashed after 82 minutes of panic.

Watching the match, it was apparent that Ghanian captain Asamoah Gyan could turn the fate of the match with a single touch. He had been meddlesome but harmless until a sublime back-heel pass while running away from goal set up Andre Ayew for a left-footed toe blast.

Jun 16, 2014; Natal, BRAZIL; A trainer cleans the blood from the nose of USA forward Clint Dempsey during the game against Ghana during the 2014 World Cup at Estadio das Dunas. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

American exceptionalism turned into nuclear fear as the Black Stars pressed to complete the comeback. But to this point the Americans survived an onslaught of attempts ranging from “one pass away” to sailing over the crossbar to Tim Howard cat leaps. To echo Itzkoff’s point, it felt a bit like the Watchers on the Wall.

In George RR Martin-esque fashion, the United States literally paid for their victory with flesh and blood. Klinsman had to lose Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler to lame hamstrings and watch Dempsey take a karate kick to the nose before the heretofore unknown John Brooks could play hero.

The American skipper said in the post-match interview that he told his bench they still had options going forward after the equalizer. Though everyone, including Klinsmann himself, didn’t fully believe the statement, his lone substitute of choice (Graham Zusi) connected with one he made out of necessity (Brooks) for a movie script goal.

Brooks himself wasn’t entirely sure if what he thought happened actually did:

After Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, the Americans find themselves in one of the few best possible scenarios they had. The Cristiano Ronaldos will be searching for their identity without half of their starting defense after Pepe got himself sent off and Fabio Coentrao picked up a nasty groin injury.

Jun 16, 2014; Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, BRAZIL; United States forward Jozy Altidore (17) grabs his leg and reacts while trying to chase down a ball during the first half of their 2014 World Cup game at Estadio das Dunas. Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

But Klinsmann’s options to replace Altidore require a complete shift in tactics. None have his ability as an out-and-out striker to hold possession up top, important for an American side that gave the ball away at Ghana’s will. Icelandic-American upstart Aron Johansson got swallowed by the moment and a lack of touches in a forgettable fill-in performance. Chris Wondolowski has a knack for scoring goals in the national jersey, but he lacks Altidore’s on-ball strength as well.

Portugal may be down, but this feels like exactly that motivation Ronaldo needs to take over a game from the beginning as he did in the World Cup qualifying playoff with Sweden. To this point, the Americans’ defense looks like leaky pipes on the cusp of bursting and the outlets can’t hold onto the ball. Had Ghana broken through earlier in the match, you got the sense they could have squeezed in a few more goals from their 21 shots and 59 percent ball possession. Frankly it felt like more.

Lets thank our (now) lucky Black Stars that the Yanks have three points. Jurgen Klinsmann was on to something by lowering the expectations of everyone outside his locker room.