How Ghana ended the Americans' march

[USA-GHANA ANALYSIS] The bitter disappointment of losing to Ghana, 2-1, in the round of 16 Saturday won't be cleansed for quite a while. Nor will quickly fade the feeling of "what might have been" had the Americans been able to take their inspirational march one step further, and feed the nation with five more days of speculation and anticipation of a quarterfinal match with two-time champion Uruguay on Friday.

The Americans not only failed to win a game, they squandered a chance to win over much of a country largely indifferent to their sport except when the big show comes around every four years, a country briefly captivated by their exploits and thirsty for more.

The Ghanaians were quicker to the ball and stronger in the tackle for much of the match. They also devised a shrewd tactical plan to neutralize the connection between Landon Donovan and Steve Cherundolo that had unhinged Algeria, and several times punished a lack of pace in central defense and a narrowness of team shape that exposed the flanks.

Yet the Americans, despite falling behind in the fifth minute and laboring through a moribund first half, generated enough chances to win when they got clean runs at Ghana’s three defenders. Robbie Findley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley all had Richard Kingson’s goal in sight and well within range. Jonathan Bornstein left his corner bare on occasion, yet used his energy and skills to soften up Ghana on his side of the field.

Had their finishing been half as ruthless as that of Kevin Prince Boatang and Asamoah Gyan, who drilled home shots on two of his searing runs through the middle, the undressing of Ricardo Clark that prompted the first goal would have been but a sidelight. Or, had keeper Kingson not been in sparkling form, a long driven ball that Gyan punched home for the second goal less than three minutes into overtime might never had happened.

Criticized for over-use of long balls in this competition, the U.S. produced chances with balls over the back line. Kingson charged out of his goal to tackle away a ball from Altidore with a superb tackle and stopped a shot on another occasion. A third ball, played centrally, engaged Altidore in a furious wrestling match with centerback John Pantsil, who jarred Altidore sufficiently that his scuffed shot rolled a yard wide. Kingson also got his fists to several Donovan dead balls and Ghana’s robust marking snuffed other serves.

Had those balls gone to Robbie Findley rather than Altidore, perhaps his speed would have been decisive. Altidore, obviously weary and dull from a superb showing against Algeria just three days earlier, lost his legs in the second half and Herculez Gomez replaced him for the extra periods.

In more than one sense, this defeat reeked of fluffed opportunities. A soaring balloon of momentum has burst, and instead of a work week full of froth and frenzy – and not just on ESPN – there come discussions of tactical and personnel decisions made by Coach Bob Bradley, good plays and breakdowns at critical moments, and eventually, what happens next.

Clark may have more speed and range than Maurice Edu, but against tough, fast opponents, more bite and muscle than Clark provides was needed. Findley may be the fastest U.S. forward but he looked pedestrian when matched with Ghana’s three burners in the back. And in their previous World Cup stints Clark and Findley had done little to merit recalls in such a critical game, in which their absence and lack of game sharpness would be evident.

Bradley didn’t have viable options. Both Gomez and Edson Buddle had worked hard but squandered their chances as well. Altidore didn’t have the energy to work the flanks as he had in the group phase, but if Findley’s speed was supposed to exploit a different attacking stance, it seldom worked.

To thwart Cherundolo’s attacking impetus from his right-back position, Ghana deployed either Andre Ayew or Kevin-Prince Boateng to monitor him and also stay close to Donovan if he was in the area. Though Ghana’s formation and shape changed, it often spread out five players in midfield, and by cutting off Cherundolo’s passing lanes into the middle it shut off lanes by which he could join in combination play. It also surrounded Clark/Edu and Bradley with three players, at least until the Americans sorted out things at halftime and Findley left in favor of Benny Feilhaber, with Dempsey moving up top.

Edu’s presence solidified the middle, and Feilhaber’s mobility and touch opened up Ghana’s midfield trap, and also gave some relief to Dempsey, hammered by a Ghanaian just about every time he touched the ball. Feilhaber slid into the middle to offset Ghana’s numbers, and from that slot he played a ball forward that Donovan touched to Dempsey, whose snaky dribble prompted Jonathan Mensah to bowl him over.

Donovan took the penalty and it nicked the inside of the post, the first time in the tournament a shot to the woodwork had turned out favorably for the U.S. Riding the momentum of a goal, the Americans gained strength in midfield and got their shots but couldn’t solve the quick and agile Kingson.

Both of Ghana’s goals exploited central breakdowns. On the first one, Michael Bradley played a short ball to Clark, and then looped behind him, perhaps expecting a return pass. Instead, he had no chance to intervene when Kwando Asamoah stood up Clark in the center circle, and released Boateng to race toward goal. He deked Jay DeMerit before firing a low shot that caught Tim Howard a foot or so too far from his near post.

Less than three minutes into overtime, Ayew’s long clearance down the middle of the field turned into a three-horse race. Gyan sprinted for the ball between DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra, who had been cautioned late in the second half and didn’t risk a tackle or shoulder charge. Gyan’s speed won the duel and he fired a blistering shot that Howard’s desperate stab failed to deflect.

Ghana held on for the last 27 minutes as the frustrated, tired Americans conjured up a few decent chances. Bradley shot wide, and in the final minute, Kingson punched out a Donovan corner yet again. A tough loss in a winnable game with opportunity beckoning will linger long in the memory.

29 comments about "How Ghana ended the Americans' march".
  1. Philippe Fontanelli, June 27, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

    "The Americans not only failed to win a game, they squandered a chance to win over much of a country largely indifferent to their sport except when the big show comes around every four years, a country briefly captivated by their exploits and thirsty for more".
    Ridge Mahoney this was well pointed out.
    Thus Gulati and Bradley's should go down as the ultimate curse word and the culprits for failure in our soccer history.

  2. Ric Dahlstrom, June 27, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    Mahoney recap is great but he went too easy on Bradley. The center mid was always too far forward, clogging up the forwards space. He seemed to be the only player on the team playing for his own glory instead of playing for his team. His weak passes in all of the US games caused numerous problems for his teammates. He has great vision and plays well for his club but didn't step it up to the world cup level.

  3. Ric Dahlstrom, June 27, 2010 at 11:41 a.m.

    I disagree about the long ball working. When US started they kept playing long balls only to help Guana keep posession. Once they went down a goal they started playing soccer which resulted in an equalizer. Once they scored they went back to the long ball which was ultimately the reason they couldn't win.

  4. David Sirias, June 27, 2010 at 11:41 a.m.

    Bradley didn’t have viable options? SA needs to stop being a Bradley apologist ! Gomez and Edson Buddle didn't get sufficient time either in the buildup or the WC Altidore should not have even started with 72 hours break Findley should not have been on the team. Utter fail. Bob tried to replace Davies when in fact the system needed change to match the personnel. You think there's s reason why the USA fell behind early in 11 of the last 18 games ? Well it's the coach. If you go into a game with a tentative defensive mindset rather than take the game to the other team, this is what happens. There are only a handful of teams in the world that USA can't take it to. Ghana was not one of them. Bobs lack of faith in his players and his system was the teams downfall. Tell the truth SA!

  5. Mike Gaynes, June 27, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    The standard Mahoney analysis... a mile wide and an inch deep. Why did the Americans labor through a "moribund" first half? Because Bob Bradley's starting lineup included two Sunday league players who were included only because of their "speed" and were hopelessly out of their depth. (Note that when they actually had eleven quality players on the field in the second half, the US dominated.) By having to replace his mistakes so early -- one at 30 minutes, one at 45 -- Bradley left the US down by a goal and two subs before the second half began, and had no resources to fall back on when the legs went dead. And to suggest he had no viable options is ridiculous. He had massive resources in midfield that he used belatedly (Feilhaber) or not at all (Torres, Holden, Beasley) that could not only have better contested Ghana's 4-5-1 in the first half but would have taken some of the load off Dempsey and Donovan and helped them keep their legs moving a little longer. It would also have given the US earlier and better alternatives to Ghana's focus on Cherundolo. In the final analysis, however, it might still have been insufficient because of Bradley's worst mistake of all, one that utterly escaped Ridge. Bradley failed to begin cultivating replacements for Onyewu eight months ago when he went down with his knee injury, instead simply hoping he would get better in time. The US was predictably left with a glacial central defense that was exposed multiple times, most brutally of all on the final goal. Bradley gave runup time to inexperienced defenders like Goodson, hoping lightning would strike, but clearly never considered the two most obvious alternatives -- Jonathan Spector, a naturally gifted and experienced defender chronically played out of position on the outside, and the best US tackler and distributor, his own son Michael. Either would have been superior as a marking back to DeMerit, who simply doesn't have the quality. In that, he is similar to Bob Bradley.

  6. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    Such stupidity. Ridge Mahoney lists the chances the US had, and all the negative sheep out there bemoan the coaching. Typical no-nothing response to this article.

  7. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 11:57 a.m.

    Ok, so I meant know-nothing.

  8. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 12:57 p.m.

    More idiocy from the critics. How can any seriously invoke gooch when he was not 100% fit and does not shore up the greatest defensive flaw of slowness.

    The fact is that BB made the right move in sliding Bocanegra over to the middle, and Bornstein came up with a great game against Ghana despite showing poorly in the run-up to the WC against Turkey and Czech.

    We don't always know what goes on in training for a match. Personally, I was not sure Edu could be trusted full time at defensive mid, and I'm not sure he showed very well against Algeria, but he played extremely well against Ghana.

    I think some criticism of BB is warranted, but he did a great job in putting together a team that played with tremendous flair and vision.

  9. Karma Newland, June 27, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    While I do not know what BB sees in practice, he apparently gives it more credence that in-game form. I don't claim to know more about soccer than BB, however, it is frustrating to see the same apparent mistakes game after game. My friends and I see a better team when Torres, Edu or Fielhaber start in the middle. M. Bradley is a better player when any of these 3 is on the field, instead of Clark. My other comment is about how poorly we start. I believe that we start poorly because we continue to believe that we need to be patient and control possession. WE ARE NOT THAT TEAM. We foil attacks and then counter. We start off poorly because Bob is coaching a different team than we actually have. Look up the stats, higher possession = more losses...surprised? Studies show that the only possession #'s that count are those in the offensive 3rd. When we possess, we tend to pass it around in the back. Where was Buddle? He was in form in the MLS and carried that form into the WC warm ups. Findley continued to show an inability to use his "speed?" to beat opponents and continued to not finish when given the opportunity.

  10. James Froehlich, June 27, 2010 at 2:19 p.m.

    Great analysis from Ridge in a style that would have done his "A" license teachers credit !!! The creative deficiency of the US coaching fraternity is quite amply displayed in Ridge's analysis.
    Ridge, how about saying out loud that Feilhaber brought a creativity to the team that was totally lacking before his arrival. Even your buddy John Harkes and Martin Tyler wondered why Feilhaber has not been a regular starter. I won't bother to reiterate the same type of pertinent comments regarding Gomez, Buddle, and Torres.

    Besides shaking up the US Soccer organization, I would like to recommend the abolition of all US Soccer coaching schools. Besides improving the level of play it would also save us all the pseudo-technical blather dispensed by pundits like Mr. Mahoney.

    BTW, Mr. SIegel--it appears that everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot or stupid. I think you need to calm down a bit.

  11. James Froehlich, June 27, 2010 at 2:21 p.m.

    Ric Dahlstrom --- totally agree about the long balls. Question: would that have been a coaching decision or a player decision???

  12. Mike Gaynes, June 27, 2010 at 3 p.m.

    James, of course Mr. Siegel sees a team that "played with tremendous flair and vision"... so of course he sees idiocy and stupidity in those he disagrees with. In other words, he sees what no one else does, like the kid in The Sixth Sense. His comments can safely be discounted. Karma, you bring out a great point -- I've blamed Bradley for not having the US ready to play big games, so they give up early goals, but your point that the problem may be strategic rather than just "starting flat" is well taken. Like it or not, this is a long ball team, and turnovers in midfield have cost us badly now in multiple World Cup losses.

  13. Chris Kirk, June 27, 2010 at 3:41 p.m.

    David sirias couldn't have said it better. Spot on... All counts. No Findlay. Edson and gomez robbed of deserved time. Too easy on Bradley. He should have gone well before the cup. Time to resign sir. Cheers to Michael though who is finally coming of age.

  14. karl ortmertl, June 27, 2010 at 5:03 p.m.

    I still think the US has talent even tho' we keep losing to Ghana, who are going nowhere in this tournament as they went nowhere last World Cup, as well. Looking forward, replacing Bob Bradley as coach is a given. My choice for a replacement at this point is Guus Hiddink, but let's get the ball rolling, so to speak. He knows how to coach defense. Something we really need. I like our "O". We need to blow up the "D" - two more blunders leading to goals given up. We've got a good nucleus moving forward with Donovan, Dempsey, Torres, Altidore, Michael Bradley (I'd try him as central defender/sweeper) and Howard. The under 17's looked promising with players like Gil. We're in the mix, but need a better coach to move us forward. Also, the earlier we find a group of defenders, define their roles and get them to keep their shape, the better we'll be next time.

  15. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 5:31 p.m.

    I have no idea what you mean by Ghana 'going nowhere in this tournament.' They are going on to the quarterfinals! If they lose that game, they go home, and if they win they go on. My crystal ball is out at the cleaners, but I think Ghana is better than Uruguay. Uruguay has no consistent attack, and having good goal scorers won't mean much if they never see the ball. Ghana is very structured and Uruguay will see little of the goal, but that is just all a guess at this point.

  16. Scott Andrews, June 27, 2010 at 5:41 p.m.

    We had the players to win the game. The wrong lineup hurt. Bradley had to make too many changes and left himself without substitutes too early.

    When your opponent has a great strength offensively, you try to match it defensively. Ghana had speed and size in the attack. We needed to match that as best we could to try and neutralize. Bradley was fine but he needed to play more defensively. Edu would have been a better choice than Clark because his size and speed of play is better thanh Clark's. Gooch in the middle was a better choice than Bocanegra. Boca should have started on the outside instead of Bornstein.

    On the flip side, when your opponent has a great strength pn defense, you don't try to match it, you try to use something else to unbalance it. Ghana is big and very fast on defense. Findley was no faster and has no touch. Altidore is big and fast, but using him and Findley only tried to match their defense. We needed crafty players with deception on the attack. We definitely did not need Findley. We needed Dempsey up top. Feilhaber in the middle.

    This lineup from the start would have allowed us to match their offense with our defense. It would have allowed our offense to unbalance their defense.

    It would have also allowed Bradley to make tactical changes to give us an advantage laste rather than save us early.

    We could have used Buddle or Gomez to spell Altidore as we did, but we would have had the freedom to push Donovan up to use his skills and replaced him with players like Holden or Beasley.

    A poor lineup hurt us ysterday.

  17. James Froehlich, June 27, 2010 at 5:41 p.m.

    Everyone --- if you have the ability to go back and listen to the post game discussion following the Englandn - Germany game, you have to do it !!! In the discussion among McMananan, Lalas, and Klinsman about the future of US Soccer, I got the distinct impression that Klinsmann would jump at the chance to take over the USMNT coaching job. If not that, maybe Gulati's position --- that might be even better.

  18. David Huff, June 27, 2010 at 7:13 p.m.

    "Bradley didn't have viable options." Puhleeez!! Ridge, please stop drinking the Bradley and USSF Kool-Aid. Banal Bob (aka 'MLS Bob') needs to be held accountable for his starting lineup decisions with regard to Clark and Findley in the most important match of WC2010 for Team USA. Clark was a known quantity in terms of his inability to maintain possession and make bone-headed mental mistakes and Findley is a north-south sort of speedster who simply cannot finish. Edu and either Buddle or Gomez should have started.

    The USSF that brought us Bradley should also be held accountable for their failures, Sunil Gulati and Dan Flynn need to be gone. Recall it was they who were unwilling to give Klinsmann suffient control of the program so that he run things to bring it to the next level. They also refused to look at bringing on board other similar coaches of quality such as Argentines Pekerman and La Volpe who conducted themselves well for Argentina and Mexico during WC 2006. Why doesn't the men's program deserve a foreign coach who can raise things to a new level? The women's program has benefited greatly since bringing in Sweden's Pia Sundhage to replace the awful Greg 'Long-Ball to Abby' Ryan back in 2007 after the Hope Solo fiasco. Coach Pia has that team playing attractive soccer that uses the full range of technical skills. A seriousa house-cleaning needs to be done at USSF if we are ever to get past having a mediocre men's program. I want to see the US win a WC during my lifetime, do the rest of you feel the same?

  19. Ric Dahlstrom, June 27, 2010 at 7:28 p.m.

    James Froehlich
    I watched the game again ( Im a masochist, I know) and decided that the long ball came from the players when they realized the midfield was having a bad day. The D were left hanging whenever they tried to work through the midfield. When Edu came on the D worked through him successfully until Ghana figured that out. Bradley junior was too busy trying to play forward to help the midfield. Fortunately, he's young enough to learn to be a good onfield general next time. He's got the skill and just needs to learn to do his job. That is, unless another Reyna shows up.

  20. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 7:57 p.m.

    Mike Gaynes, my comment about stupidity was leveled at Ric Fonseca for suggesting that Gooch was a possible answer for USA woes. Does anyone seriously think he was fit after the first two matches?

  21. David Hardt, June 27, 2010 at 9:41 p.m.

    Long balls are partially the result of fatigue too. Playing from behind too many times mentally can trash you. Then add the chasing when long balls just go to the opponents and they possess.
    We need improvement at the youth level to develop soccer players not just big fast players. Too much emphasis on winning NOW at the youth level creates big fast brute ball players who can not compete at the higher levels when faced with real soccer players.

  22. Mike Gaynes, June 27, 2010 at 9:52 p.m.

    Steven, 30 seconds of elementary reading shows that your comment stringing the insults "stupidity", "negative sheep" and "typical know-nothing response" was leveled well before Ric Fonseca ever posted and mentioned Gooch. (You then tacked to "idiocy" for your response to him.) But as the only soccer pundit on earth who detected "tremendous flair and vision" in the US performance, your unparalleled brilliance clearly entitles you to be contemptuous of the other respondents.

  23. Julio Vargas, June 27, 2010 at 9:55 p.m.

    We lost to Ghana because of B. Bradly’s mistakes. The first half he burned a sub sending Clark out. In the second half what does he do? Brings out Findley and puts in Failhaber assembling the team that should have started it.
    In the first 15 minutes of the extra time, he should have put 5 in the defense and play to counter attack. Howard is good on penalties, Bradly could go for the penalty kicks at the end.

    We old know....including B.Bradly that we could have a better outcome if the lineup were different. Anyway, I think, we did all that we could to respect B.Bradley's process, but it has to be over! and he needs to go. We thank him, for the great moments that he gave us, but we all knew we need a different coach. I think if B.B. resigns now, he will be still respected and some good memories can go with him.

  24. Steven SIegel, June 27, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

    Mike Gaynes, I read plenty of vitriolic comments on these boards against BB and MB, but you don't seem to mind those. Are people really proffering Buddle or Gomez or Edu as possibly making a difference for the US? If this is their basis for why we didn't do well, then I think those folks are not paying attention to the gaffes those players made. Another big mistake people constantly make is ignoring great scoring chances the US created. And the US did NOT go to the long ball after they scored. They pretty much kept it on the ground until the 80th minute. They closed with four long balls in the last ten minutes, but won two of them, including Altidore's great attempt that got past the keeper but just went wide. My comments were all in direct response to posters blatantly ignoring the facts.

    I like some of your analysis at the beginning of this thread, but the only significant alternative to playing a guy like Findley would be to push forward Dempsey or Donovan instead. That still has nothing to do with why we gave up those early goals.

  25. Kent James, June 28, 2010 at 1:05 a.m.

    I don't think Bob Bradley would argue that he made a mistake starting Clark and Findlay. I think Ridge's analysis is pretty accurate. If we could finish (or the Ghanaian keeper didn't have such a great game; his fingertip save of Feilhaber's shot was heartbreaking!), we'd have moved on. Bradley took some risks; starting Bornstein, (who is a creative, attacking player but a bit riskier as a defender), who played well, and keeping Gooch on the bench (I'm sure that was not an easy decision, but probably the right one). I like Torres, but in the game he did start, he didn't do much, so I'm not sure he should have started against Ghana. Given Bradley's treatment of Clark, I think he'd give Torres another chance if we had the opportunity. Bradley knows that one bad game doesn't mean a player can't play at this level (though in Findlay's case, never having a good game might be some indication....). I wanted Gomez to make a huge difference when he came on, and he certainly worked hard (much harder than Altidore, who was clearly drained), but he did not have an impact. Even Edu, who played a great game against Ghana, had a poor game against Slovenia (except for the disallowed goal); he looked very nervous and gave the ball away much too much. But Bradley gave him another chance against Algeria, and he did well.
    In retrospect, maybe Bradley should have played Donovan up top (to be the speedy forward Findlay was supposed to be); even though Donovan is better attacking out of midfield, our stock of creative midfielders (Torres, Holden, and Beaseley when he's in form) is better than our supply of forwards.
    But in the end, the difference was their keeper made more amazing saves than ours did, and they finished their chances better than we did. Ghana won the game more than we lost it. Everyone on the MNT gave their best effort (including Coach Bradley, Clark and Findlay), and they should be proud of what they did. Yes, we were unable to take complete advantage of a favorable draw, but we have to remember, the competition at this level, even against the "weaker" teams, is pretty stiff.

  26. Clear the Ball, June 28, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.

    Agree for the most part with Kent. However, I'd have to argue that Clark has also never had a good game. He leaves a huge hole in our defense whenever he plays. From the beginning, I thought the 22nd and 23rd best players on the teams were Clark and Findlay. They should have never seen the field unless we had significant injuries. You've got to play your best 11. I figure "Redcardo" played a grand total of 20 minutes in all games combined before making a major error and being primarily responsible for giving up goals. He's just awful!

  27. John Singer, June 28, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.

    All of this conversation is moot if the US converts one of their 4-5 golden opportunities after they had already equalized. I think they had the game in their hands for the 10 minutes after they scored, then ran out of gas. Good summary by Ridge, great effort by the team. I am both proud and disappointed, and await the arrival of the first clinical finisher the US can develop to change the outome next time round.

  28. Lewis Curts, June 28, 2010 at 7:20 p.m.

    US needs a coach that can really read the game and not make mistakes as we have seem this ``Bob`` doing evry year.
    Last year was in the confederation when while winning the game he kept playing the long balls just to give the ball back to the Brasillia. Now we saw the same type of the game, while the biggest nations are playing with ``possession``. Can`t he see it?

  29. Steven SIegel, June 29, 2010 at 8:59 a.m.

    Here is my analysis of 'long ball' question against Ghana: In the 2nd half, the US advanced the ball out of their own end about 17 times on the ground and 8 times in the air. 4 of those 8 came in the last 10 minutes. 2 of those 4 were successful, and 1 of those beat the Ghanaian defenders and led to Altidore's slding shot that went just wide. Overall, 4 of the 8 US long balls were successful.

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