Brazil 2014: World Cup Group G – USMNT 2-1 Ghana
With the USMNT beginning their Brazil 2014 campaign, OTF’s Joe Maskivish brings the match review…
The scourge has been vanquished, a rival cast aside. On a Monday evening in sweaty Natal, the United States finally discarded the perpetual thorn in their World Cup side and knocked off Ghana. Let’s call this what it is: a win in the World Cup.
Regardless of perceived strength of opponent or the fundamental flaws throughout the match, a win is a win – and they are hard to come by in the World Cup. The U.S. managed to catch Ghana off guard with an incredibly early goal by Clint Dempsey, and then attempted to hang on for the duration and squeeze out a victory.
That attempt fell short, but like a true American fantasy, John Anthony Brooks, playing the role of T.J. Oshie (see Sochi Olympic hockey), made sure even the most soccer oblivious American knew his name.
Brooks garners the headlines for the header, and rightfully so, but let us not forget the immaculate service by substitute Graham Zusi from the corner. As has been noted previously, the current starting lineup lacks service on set pieces, an issue that would be alleviated with the insertion of Zusi or Brad Davis. Zusi did not disappoint, coming on in the second half and helping to create a memorable moment.
Entering this one, fitness was going to be key and in the end played a starring role. Not only did the frantic pace take a toll on both squads, but the conditions resulted in U.S. players dropping left and right.
The most significant of which were the apparently pulled hamstrings of Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler. Jozy’s appeared the more serious of the two and at the time of this publication his status is unknown. All of America is hoping for a mere ligament twinge that would allow him back on the field against Portugal, but it did not look good.
Besler’s injury was significant, not in its severity, but due to the fact that Brooks was his replacement. One would be hard pressed to find any knowledgeable fan that was not worried at the sight of this substitution while guarding a one goal lead. From a defensive standpoint, hopefully Besler is fit enough to take the field against Portugal as he is still the better option at center back.
Any analysis of this match would be short-sighted without the following statement: while the U.S. may have won this game, continuing to play as they did against Ghana will result in getting run off the pitch by the other teams in the group.
The hunkering down defensively after scoring was admirable, but not sufficient. Michael Bradley reverted to the inconsistent play displayed in previous Send-Off matches, which should raise a flag to his ability to play at the top of a diamond midfield going forward.
Bradley is easily the best midfielder on the U.S. roster, yet his play in this role has been quite disappointing. Is Klinsmann set on this position for The General or will we see Bradley drop back more?
Utilizing a “next man up” mentality, Altidore’s injury should have just been a minor blip in the game plan. However, replacement Aron Johannsson was unable to make his mark on the match. Unfortunately, Jozy wasn’t in the game long enough for us to know if it was the play of Ghana or Johannsson that kept this position from becoming potent.
Going forward, the Yanks are going to need to possess the ball more if they want any chance of advancing. Chasing the Black Stars for much of the 90 minutes took its toll physically and eventually Ghana was able to chip away, scoring the equalizer on a gorgeous bit of football.
The alarming play of both fullbacks will also need to be tidied up before next time out. Fabian Johnson was in the game for his ability to get forward, but as the U.S. attack lacked any teeth, he was relegated to a strictly defensive role.
One in which he did not thrive. Similarly, DaMarcus Beasley’s one-on-one defending was more than disturbing; at one point even stumbling over himself after a crossover that would have made Michael Jordan drool.
Despite the lack of possession, the obvious exhaustion, and occasional defensive lapses, the overall effort was admirable. The U.S. played their hearts out and it was quite apparent how much they wanted this win. Clint Dempsey fought through a broken nose after taking a leg to the face: the kind of determination you want to see in your captain.
The relentless effort of Jermaine Jones throughout the match was as big a part of the victory as anything. In a culture of goals and SportsCenter highlights, he does the work that goes unsung, but ultimately matters just as much. Jones’ yeoman work should not go unnoticed and the U.S. would not be sitting with three points in their back pocket without him.
Onward and upward we go – Portugal is looming. Much needs to be cleaned up before the next tilt, but the foundation is there for something special and, if these three points were significant, gaining another three will be paramount.
Before closing the book on Ghana, let’s take a look back at the questions going in:
Will the U.S. be able to take the fight to Ghana and score an early goal?
Score an early goal? Hell yeah! While scoring within the first minute was impressive, this was not a sign of the U.S. taking the fight to Ghana the remainder of the match.
Which side will be the first to show signs of tiring?
Surprisingly, both teams appeared exhausted simultaneously. However, as Ghana maintained possession, the U.S. tiring was much more evident. Along with physical fatigue, several of the American players were pulling up lame, forcing two from the game.
Can the United States backline keep the Ghanaian strikers off the scoreboard?
While not necessarily a goal by a striker, at the point in the game Ghana scored, much of their lineup was playing in a forward position. The Ghanian goal by Andre Ayew in the 82’ was a thing of beauty.
On U.S. set pieces, the Americans should have an advantage. Can the Yanks score off a set piece?
Without much possession, the U.S. was unable to draw many set pieces. However, when awarded a corner late in the game, this advantage was manifested in Brooks’ game winner.
Which team will end the game with more possession?
In the end, Ghana held a 60/40 possession advantage. Watching the game, it seemed like much more.
OTF Man of the Match: Jermaine Jones
An argument can be made for naming Kevin-Prince Boateng the MOTM in a losing effort. Boateng came on in the 59’ and the game quickly tilted to the Ghanian side. However, the U.S. won and this was due to the effort of Jermaine Jones. Without his hard work, we would be discussing a different result.
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OTF’s Joe Maskivish will be tracking USMNT’s World Cup preparations and progress until the boys come back from Brazil. Follow him @JoeMaskivish.