Unheralded Brooks provides game-winning header for dramatic victory over Ghana in World Cup opener.
By Robert Wagman
(June 16, 2014) – Reserve defender John Brook’s late header found net and allowed the United States men to wrench a 2-1 victory from Ghana in the FIFA World Cup Group G opener for both teams in front of 39,760 tonight at Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil.
The U.S. had jumped ahead with a shocking goal by forward Clint Dempsey in the first 29 seconds of the match. The Americans then tried to defend for the remaining 89 minutes, but looked like they had fallen short when Ghana striker Andre Ayew leveled in the 82nd minute.
Just when it looked like both teams would come away with a point, Brooks, an unheralded 21-year-old substitute, scored the game-winner on a header in the 86th minute off a corner kick from another late sub, midfielder Graham Zusi.
There were all sorts of improbabilities and surprises in this odd match. It started off the opening kickoff when midfielder Jermaine Jones slipped a pass to Dempsey on the left side. Dempsey beat a pair of defenders and fired the ball from the left side of the penalty area off the far right post and in, leaving Ghana stunned.
From that point on it was basically all defense by the U.S. as Ghana attacked relentlessly. Jermaine Jones in the midfield and Tim Howard in goal made play after play to hold Ghana at bay.
Occasionally, the Americans would try to counter, but once striker Jozy Altidore went out with a left hamstring injury in the 21st minute, the U.S. had almost no attack. It would clear the ball to midfield and Ghana would begin to attack again.
Defender Matt Besler had a hamstring twinge late in the first half and Brooks came on to start the second half. One might have expected Omar Gonzalez to have replaced him, but U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann decided to go with Brooks, who was earning just his sixth cap and was not even in the final roster picture a month ago.
Likewise, when Alejandro Bedoya had just about run himself into the ground, Klinsmann brought on Zusi and the two somewhat unlikely substitutes combined for one of the biggest goals in U.S. history.
What is likely to get lost in the euphoria of the last minute triumph is the fact that Ghana did not play particularly well and the U.S. was left grasping by its fingernails. For just about 85 minutes of the match, from Dempsey’s opening goal until Brooks’ winner, the Americans did not challenge the Ghana goal. They were completely back on their heels and could not mount any real threats. They defended very well, but in end had to be thankful that Ghana could do little in the final third.
Ghana coach Akwasi Appiah may have out-thought himself. He started a young, but very quick lineup. He left the vastly experienced midfielders Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng on the bench. Without them, the Ghana attack was largely unfocused.
Appiah put both on in the second half and only then did Ghana became dangerous. Maybe, it was because the U.S. defense had been worn down by the heat and humidity, but Ghana was a more dangerous team with the two veterans on the field.
In the 82nd minute, Ayew got loose on the left side of the penalty area, split Cameron and Brooks, and drove a shot past a stranded Tim Howard.
This match against Ghana was the culmination of Klinsmann’s three-year tenure leading the American program. He has brought in new players while ushering out several veterans, most notably Landon Donovan.
He has tried to change the U.S. style of play to one emphasizing greater possession, one-touch passing and forward pressure. That style was largely absent tonight, but in the end it was an old fashioned kind of U.S. win. It was not based on tactics, just on effort and good fortune. If Besler had not had hamstring problems and had not Bedoya not run out of gas, the winning combination would not have been on the field.
So it was not planning or strategy. In the past, it was Donovan delivering in the clutch. Tonight, it was substitute Brooks.
Next up for the U.S. is a wounded Portugal on Sunday at Manaus in the Amazon. Portugal was not only badly beaten by Germany 4-1 today, but it appears to have lost three starters.
Central defender Pepe, was sent off with a red card in the 37th minute for an almost comical head butt and will be ineligible on Sunday. Just before that incident, striker Hugo Almeida had limped off and then, in the second half, defender Fabio Coentrao suffered an apparent groin injury.
Still, to get a point from even a depleted Portugal, the U.S. will have to find an offense.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 7: Was another hero for the U.S. He kept it in the match with a great 32nd-minute save on forward Asamoah Gyan and one on a sharp header from Jordan Ayew in the 58th. He organized his defense well and commanded his box. Was beaten, however, to the near side by Andre Ayew.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 5: Gyan and Christian Atsu gave Beasley fits coming down the U.S. left side. Beasley played them loose and Ghana was able to cross balls almost at will.
Defender Matt Besler - 5.5: He was put under a lot of pressure to back up Beasley and take care of the middle. By the 41st minute, he was under obvious distress with what has been called a hamstring twinge.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He was very solid in the center of the American defense and responded well to the almost constant pressure. Handled everything that was sent into the middle in the air.
Defender Fabian Johnson – 5.5: Most of Ghana’s pressure came on the opposite side or up the middle, so was not under too much stress. But he did manage to get forward on occasion. Appeared to lose his mark, Andre Ayew on the tying goal.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5: Was constantly involved in midfield scrums as Ghana tried to push the ball through the center. He did not show the flair he has in previous matches. Had difficulty distributing the ball.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7.5: Time after time, play after play, Jones broke up Ghana attacks. He was repeatedly called on to help Beasley. His play was nothing short of inspired.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: Anchored the center of the U.S. defense very well. This freed Jones up to work both the left and right sides. Did his job like a veteran.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: He simply ran himself into the ground. By the time he came off, he could barely walk. A gritty performance.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: Scored a terrific early goal. Then he took a opponent’s leg to the face, which likely broke his nose which slowed him the rest of the way.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6: Played hard from the start and pulled up lame while fighting for a ball at full stride. Injured the same hamstring that kept him sidelined for long stretches in 2010 and 2012. His World Cup could be over.
Forward Aron Johannsson (21st minute for Altidore ) - 5: Did little to distinguish himself. Time after time, the U.S. would dig out from deep in its end, but he did not make himself available to give much help.
Defender John Brooks (46th minute for Besler) - 7: Was there to score the most important goal of his brief career. While he made a few defensive mistakes, under the circumstances, all can be forgiven.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (77th minute for Bedoya) - 6: Delivered the corner kick that was converted for the winning goal. Worked hard, but was mainly back playing defense.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jermaine Jones.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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