And … you can breathe again. The US national team went through every kind of plot twist imaginable on Monday – early goals, late goals and worrisome injuries. But at the end of 95 minutes of heart-racing soccer at Arena das Dunas, they got their revenge on Ghana with a 2-1 victory over their old nemesis and are off to a nearly perfect opening in Group G at the 2014 World Cup.
DREAM START, HISTORY MADE: Twenty-nine seconds. That’s all it took for Clint Dempsey to put the USMNT on the board and erase all kinds of failures past. The first US forward to score at a World Cup since Brian McBride in 2002; check. Putting the US on the board first for only the second time in eight World Cup games; check. The fastest US goal in World Cup history; check. In fact, Deuce’s slick move off some one-two touch passing from DaMarcus Beasley and Jermaine Jones for the cool finish at the right post was the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history.
US SURVIVE WITH LAST MEN STANDING: The elation turned to panic quickly, however, first when Jozy Altidore pulled up lame while chasing a long lead pass from Michael Bradley in the 21st minute and had to be stretchered off with a left hamstring strain. Then Matt Besler left at halftime with hamstring tightness. Add to that knocks to Geoff Cameron, Alejandro Bedoya and a bloody nose suffered by Dempsey in the 32nd minute. A hard-fought win, indeed. Good thing Besler’s replacement, John Anthony Brooks was…
THE NEWEST AMERICAN HERO: As the minutes ticked away, it looked like the US would have to share the points after Ghana’s Andre Ayew scored a beauty of an equalizer in the 82nd minute off a give-and-go with Asamoah Gyan. Just five minutes later, Brooks wrote himself into USMNT lore with a snap header off Graham Zusi’s corner kick that rocketed off the turf and into the net, clinching the victory for the US. Brooks’ inclusion on this roster was something of a controversy, but the 21-year-old Berlin native’s heroics will long be remembered.
HOLD YOUR BREATH AND LEARN TO EXHALE: This game was far harder than it looked. Following Dempsey’s shocking opener, the US sat back and absorbed wave after wave of Ghana attack and didn’t even register a second shot on goal until the 63rd minute. The Americans were battered and bruised by the Black Stars, whose athleticism shined through. But thanks to their terrific resiliency, the US finally slayed their World Cup dragon and won all three points – a perfect start in the Group of Death. With Germany's rout of Portugal, that gives the Americans an incredible opportunity on Sunday: If they’re healthy enough and fortunate enough to topple the equally hobbled Portuguese, they have a chance to all but guarantee passage to the knockout rounds. Do you believe that we will win?
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jermaine Jones, USA. Yes, really. For all the criticism the midfield destroyer has received over his USMNT tenure for lack of discipline, the Frankfurt native played perhaps his best game in red, white and blue deployed on the left side of the midfield diamond. On transition, he fell back to a more centralized role alongside equally excellent Kyle Beckerman and turned in a cultured, smart performance, with timely tackling, fantastic positioning and smooth, short passing.