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Adversity, Belief, and Triumph: US Men’s National Team Finally Overcomes Ghana

US Men's National Team

Photo from Major League Soccer’s Twitter @MLS

Sometimes, everything simply flies out the window.

A team can plan all they want in sports. But if Murphy’s Law has taught us anything, it is that you just cannot predict what may happen. Then it becomes all about the response.

The US Men’s National Team‘s first 2014 World Cup game–a heart-stopping 2-1 survival against their perennial bogey side Ghana–was exactly such a match. In both the positive and the negative, everything planned for went out the window. Everything that seemingly could have happened did happen. And it was hardly a match pleasing on the eyes from the Americans and the way they played.

But they survived. They rolled with the punches. They got three precious points in the “Group of Death”. And they have given themselves a shot at progression from the group.

It could not have started much better. Clint Dempsey‘s goal after 34 seconds was both unprecedented and surreal, as the U.S. took advantage of Ghana’s lax defending with a lightning quick attack. It was only fitting that Dempsey capped it with a piece of individual skill and ability that has defined him as a player over the years to create the space to finish.

A dream start. And the Americans’ possession was decent enough afterward. But despite the lead, there were early signs of issues. Michael Bradley was struggling to connect the attack and midfield, dropping deeper and deeper with his passes often not finding their usual mark. DaMarcus Beasley faced wave after wave of attacks from Ghana’s rotating group of midfielders and right back Opare as well. But they were holding.

And then, on a long ball played out from the defense with 20 minutes played, Jozy Altidore pulled up holding his hamstring.

It was a blow of the highest order: the leading man in attack, both with his finishing and bruising hold up play, gone. As he cried out in pain departing the field, the mood suddenly turned somber. The target tasked with stretching Ghana’s defense was out, replaced by the capable but differing Aron Johannsson. Suddenly, Ghana had all the freedom in the world to press higher and higher up the pitch when the U.S. had possession.

And so it happened. With Asamoah Gyan picking his runs in between Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron and Ghana’s relentless pressure forcing early turnovers, the U.S. had to compact themselves and defend. While it frustrated Ghana’s normally open, flowing attack, it also meant life on the offensive had to be created by the counter for the Americans. The Black Stars ultimately finished with 62% possession and outpassed the U.S. 456-276  They have lived there in the past, but in the heat of this World Cup night, the opportunities were more limited than ever.

Matt Besler pulled up his a hamstring injury of his own. Geoff Cameron was hobbled. Alejandro Bedoya was too. Clint Dempsey was rocked by a ridiculous kick to the head that really should have had a card attached to it.

The gameplan was essentially out the window, with challenge after challenge to overcome.

But this was where the truest quality of the American side, and Jurgen Klinsmann as a coach, shone brightest: the power of belief and determination. So many countries over the years have commented on the ability of the U.S. to fight and battle to results, spurred by the power of their determination and grit despite many tactical shortcomings that they are still working to overcome.

Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman kept Ghana’s attackers limited to mostly outside efforts: they may have had 21 shots, but just three were on target. Beasley and Fabian Johnson kept the Ghanaian wings limited to just crosses, as they only completed 34% of the 38 crosses they served up. John Brooks slid in when Besler was subbed off at halftime, complementing Cameron enough to keep Gyan and the marauding attacks at bay.

But then, after all the pressure, Ghana finally cracked the code. It was a superbly sweeping move into the box, with Andre Ayew coming to life on a storming secondary run to receive a layoff from Gyan and fire past the previously unflappable Tim Howard. In the ascendency and with the Americans wearing down in the humid night, suddenly Ghana were pressing for more.

The thing that makes this game amazing though is its ability to have such a flexible script. For one moment to change everything. One moment in one instant.

And of all the people for such a stunning, unprecedented winning goal to happen to, John Anthony Brooks was the perfect man for the moment. Maligned after his rough outing for the U.S. in Cyprus against Ukraine, he responded with performances beyond his 21 years of age in the Bundesliga to earn a spot on the United States’ roster. And in one instant, after one stunning corner delivery from Graham Zusi, his downward header found the net and put him into the stratosphere of delirium.

A moment of a lifetime.

Fending off a few more attacks, the United States brought it home. The three points they so desperately wanted and needed to begin the group of death.

There is no question, it was not a virtuoso U.S. performance in terms of technical skill. Michael Bradley did not have the kind of presence and assertion on the game that he needs to have for the team to be successful. The defense had many questions asked of it. The possession was too fast and unkempt.

And going forward, dealing with the injuries to Altidore, Besler, and others will be a big factor in determining how far the U.S. goes. Not having a true target forward like Altidore will force changes to the frontline. The depth of this team is about to be tested, with many of the players tired from this match. Cristiano Ronaldo and seething Portugal await after a 4-0 trouncing against Germany.

In short, it must be better as a whole for the US Men’s National Team to ensure passage to the knockout round.

But they overcame. They overcame the demons of 2006 and 2010 versus Ghana. They overcame the heat. They overcame the pressure of a very special squad. And they overcame everything Murphy’s Law threw at them on that day.

And perhaps it means the US Men’s National Team can do it again, with all the spirit and drive that this side is so well-known for.

Joel Hoover is a contributor for Stoppage Time Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @JoelHoover.

Related Links:

John Brooks Impresses in US Men’s National Team’s 2014 World Cup Opening Win over Ghana

 

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