For 192 days all the United States Soccer Team had heard was how they were drawn into the dreaded ‘Group of Death.’ As the fan group American Outlaws said, death becomes us.
The United States defeated Ghana 2-1 in the first group match of World Cup 2014, avenging losses to Ghana eliminating the U.S. from the World Cup the last two tournaments, and setting the Americans up for a potential run this time. Next up is a weakened Portugal side on Sunday, then a match with stellar Germany on June 26.
The match began with a lightning bolt, in the form of Clint Dempsey. Off a throw by DaMarcus Beasley, and a pass from Jermaine Jones, Dempsey made one move, four touches, and with the left boot beat goalkeeper Adam Kwarasay kissing it off the far post just 29 seconds in to give the U.S. a 1-0 advantage. It was the fastest goal in U.S. World Cup History, and the fifth fastest ever in the World Cup. With the goal, Dempsey became the first American man to score in three World Cups.
The crowd of 39,760 at Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, was set on its collective ear. But things would not continue so smoothly. In the 21st minute, striker Jozy Altidore pulled up lame, crumpling to the ground with a severely pulled hamstring. He was immediately substituted for. His status for the remainder of the World Cup is up in the air, though Coach Jürgen Klinsmann is optimistic about his return.
Later in the half, Dempsey was inadvertently kicked in the nose, affecting him the rest of the night. It was later diagnosed as broken. Dempsey figures to play against Portugal, a decision will be made closer to the match on whether or not a face shield will be worn. Toward the end of the half, defender Matt Besler also suffered a hamstring injury that required him to be substituted for; however, he is expected to be fully fit for Portugal.
The lead was 1-0 at the half, even though Ghana had carried the play after that initial goal. They were able to settle things down and gain a rhythm. The Americans only fell further back on their heels when Ghana tied the match in the 82nd minute on a spectacular piece of skill.
Asamoah Gyan played a beautiful back heel pass that split open the U.S. defense, and Andre Ayew buried it with the left foot past a sprawling U.S. keeper Tim Howard, 1-1. Seconds later, Ghana attacked again and the picture looked bleak. Whenever a team makes a run in a tournament, unexpected heroes always step to the fore. Enter John Brooks.
Seen by most pundits as the 23rd and last man on the squad, the one whose worthiness was questioned especially with the omission of Landon Donovan and singled out for poor defensive work leading up to Brazil, Brooks entered as a substitute at the start of the second half. Things did not start well. Bailed out by Howard after a bad giveaway, he was verbally challenged by his goalkeeper. He responded.
Brooks found his legs (and his confidence), and when Ghana needlessly gave up a corner kick in the 85th minute, Brooks took an offensive position. Graham Zusi delivered a potent corner kick, and Brooks put a head to it, heading it down and past Kwarasay in the 86th to give the USA an unlikely 2-1 lead. The team held on for the victory—the three points they had to have.