Heroic performances throughout the lineup powered the Americans past Ghana, 2-1, in their World Cup Group G opener Monday in Natal. Here are three of many subplots to be played out during the match:
From Berlin to Brazil. After a rough outing three months ago in a friendly defeat to Ukraine, defender John Brooks didn’t look like he had much chance to make the World Cup squad of 23.
A debutant the previous August in a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina, which occurred about three years after he’d played for the U.S. U-20s against Paraguay, Brooks -- like four other U.S. World Cup players -- could have opted to play for Germany. But instead the son of an American servicemen born in Berlin opted for the USA, and on the depth chart he edged past Quakes defender Clarence Goodson during the May training camp in Northern California.
At that camp, Omar Gonzalez lost his starting spot to Geoff Cameron, who going into the World Cup had played just four times alongside Matt Besler in central defense. They started against Ghana and late in the first half, Besler started hobbling while holding his hamstring. His substitution at halftime was described as "a precaution" and it threw Brooks right into the fray, forcing him and Cameron to re-adjust on the fly.
Four minutes after Ghana equalized, both centerbacks came up for a corner kick in the 86th minute, a rather risky move when tied 1-1 in the final minutes of a World Cup group opener. Cameron's run took him outside of Brooks and Cameron nearly touched Graham Zusi's corner, but Brooks nailed a firm header on the bounce to score the winning goal.
Premier partnership. During their national-team careers, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman have been dogged by persistent criticism. Jones is too hotheaded and reckless, Beckerman isn't quick enough nor tough enough to handle the rigors of international play.
Solution: play them together, so Jones ruggedness and Beckermann's defensive savvy can complement each other. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann used the three warmup games to test out numerous combinations and this one paid dividends in Natal.
The partnership wasn't perfect against Ghana, but both players were solid enough to frustrate the opposition and also recover from a few sloppy giveaways by Michael Bradley. Jones gave the Americans some muscle on the left side of midfield and a tough combatant on aerial balls.
Beckerman screened the back line tidily but also held up well in physical duels. Bradley often dropped back to flatten out the midfield diamond as the USA defended but the alignment led to many U.S. turnovers in the middle third, perhaps because the outlet passing angles were also narrowed.
Deuce does it again. Both goals actually came from set plays; the U.S, scored the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history whenDaMarcus Beasley and Jones relayed a throw-in from the left side to Clint Dempsey, who slalomed into the penalty area with three slick touches before slotting a superb shot inside the far post.
Dempsey needed medical attention to stem severe bleeding from his nose after a wild leg swing by John Boye (beaten on both U.S. goals) caught him in the face. The attack will be greatly depleted against Portugal in any case if Jozy Altidore's hamstring pull is at all serious, but Dempsey's sharp dribble and crisp finish reminded everyone as to who is the main U.S. scoring threat.