For all the flack Jurgen Klinsmann received for his 23-man roster for this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the United States men’s national team coach now has quite the counterargument. The Americans beat Ghana 2-1, the team they’ve been waiting to squash for the last eight years Monday in their World Cup opener in Natal, Brazil.
Of all the likely heroes to deliver three points in the waning moments of a World Cup match, it was a 21-year-old German-American who at least until a month ago, was not a necessary shoo-in for this summer’s campaign in the "Group of Death."
John Brooks rose to the occasion, skying for a header in the 86th minute, snapping it down into the grass in front of the Ghanian goal. The ball bounced high and into the back of the net to seal three points in the first outing. He replaced an injured Matt Besler at halftime, a move many fans and pundits were interested to see considering his struggles with the USMNT in recent weeks.
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey netted the sixth-fastest goal in World Cup history when he sliced and diced his way through the Ghana defense, rifling a left-footed shot to the far post as it pinged off the post and in. That took all of 34 seconds. It was what came later that may trouble USMNT fans. Jozy Altidore pulled up lame with a left hamstring strain and was subbed off. Besler followed soon after.
But thanks to stellar outings from Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron and Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman, the U.S. was able to hold fort as Ghana pressed continually. Even after Andre Ayew’s 82nd-minute equalizer, the Americans didn’t quit. And the most unlikely of heroes made his name remembered.
This is just the first of three guaranteed group stage matches. Best advice: Hang on. It’ll be wild.
Player grades for the U.S.’s 2-1 win over Ghana:
Goalkeeper Tim Howard (6) » While Ghana had 21 shots, only three ended up on goal. Howard was beat when Ayew’s curler went outside of the foot near post rather than far, but the rock of the back line did well. He’ll have to command even more so Sunday against Portugal if Besler is out.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley (5) » Ghana took it to Beasley down the left side throughout the match and the World Cup veteran struggled, but found his footing as the match wore on. He’ll need to be at his best going forward as Ghana may have exposed some weaknesses.
Defender Matt Besler (6) » Besler was sturdy in his World Cup debut before pulling up lame with a hamstring injury minutes before halftime. He was subbed off for eventual game-winner John Brooks at halftime. Besler’s status against Portugal is up in the air, but Brooks’ emergence could help quell fears.
Defender Geoff Cameron (7.5) » The Stoke City defender was stellar. Tasked with marking some of Ghana’s best attackers, he was constantly in position to make timely clearances and stop dangerous plays from becoming clear goal-scoring opportunities.
Defender Fabian Johnson (6) » Struggled defending against Ghana, but did make great runs forward into the attack. Could have gotten a shot off during an impressive run into the box, but ran into traffic as the ball was cleared. Must not be broken down outside the box, especially against Portugal.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (7.5) » In his first World Cup appearance, the 32-year-old Real Salt Lake captain was everywhere. Sitting in front of the back line in Klinsmann’s formation, Beckerman was able to make timely tackles in and around the box and was composed on the ball going forward. Likely earned another start.
Midfielder Michael Bradley (5) » America’s most well-rounded player couldn’t find a groove, which is a surprise. Bradley’s passes were heavy and when not, were behind players making runs into the attack. He’ll need to be better in the next two games.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones (8) » Often looked at as a wild card due to his uneven temperament, Jones put in arguably his best performance with the U.S. Jones was integral in the attack and cut out several dangerous chances by Ghana.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (6) » Didn’t have much to do in this game. His speed down the flank wasn’t much of a factor, but he did well in tracking back in defense. Could see Graham Zusi, who replaced Bedoya late in the second half, against Portugal.
Forward Clint Dempsey (7.5) » His trickery 34 seconds in delivered a moment that won’t be forgotten in the history of U.S. soccer. Also took a scissor kick to the nose, which may be broken. The U.S. captain toughed it out, however, and will need to shoulder the load with Altidore likely out.
Forward Jozy Altidore (Left with injury) » It was a horrific sight to see Altidore reaching back to grasp at his left hamstring 23 minutes into the first World Cup match. It looked serious, and more tests are expected on the strain in Sao Paulo, but it doesn’t look good.
Forward Aron Johannsson (6) » Came in cold and did well to handle things. Was able to take defenders 1-on-1 in the attack, but missed some timely runs that could have developed into shots on goal. With Altidore likely out, the onus falls on the young Icelandic-American who has been a force in the Dutch league.
Defender John Brooks (8) » What more can you ask of a 21-year-old kid making his World Cup debut? A center back coming at halftime, no less. Brooks looked shaky at times, but delivered the game-winning header in the 86th minute and even cleared a point-blank header from Michael Essien minutes later. Odds on guy to replace Besler, should he not be available.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (6) » Sent in the game-winning corner kick that found the head of Brooks, but was also part of the right side broken down by Ghana’s Andre Ayew before his 82nd-minute equalizer. Zusi is a more solid option out wide then Bedoya, but has to be more committed to defending.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (8.5) » Talk about being dealt a tough hand. In his first World Cup match as USMNT coach, Klinsmann saw his star target forward go down 23 minutes in and a centerback staple exit, both with hamstring injuries. But Klinsmann pulled all the right strings, putting in Brooks over Omar Gonzalez and implementing Johannsson and Zusi. Utilizing Kyle Beckerman turned out to be a great chance taken as well. Fielding another strong starting XI against Portugal at Manaus Sunday in the humid Amazon will be difficult.
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