USA-Ghana: The subplots that played out on a magical night in Natal

By Ridge Mahoney

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 when DaMarcus 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.


10 comments about "USA-Ghana: The subplots that played out on a magical night in Natal".
  1. j bapper, June 16, 2014 at 10:10 p.m.

    A heroic effort by the US but

  2. j bapper, June 16, 2014 at 10:17 p.m.

    A heroic effort by the US but they have to lift the level significantly in the next two games. We were on our heels all night and were lucky to withstand the pressure. Losing Altidore is going to be bigger than most people thought... Johansen was awful... I'm not sure how this guy has scored so much in the Dutch league? I think Wondolowski will see time against Portugal. Michael Bradley was completely off his game - I have never seen so many poor passes from him. Finally, I thought we were going to be the best conditioned team? We were gassed the last 20 minutes and lost two players to hamstring injuries... Maybe Klinsman pushed them to

  3. John Burns, June 16, 2014 at 11:06 p.m.

    Looking on the bright side, the team managed to pull off the victory in spite of the uncharacteristic showing of Bradley, who has been the rock for some time now but this time he turned into a pebble at best. Imagine what a difference it would have made in the match if he had been even a strong shadow of his natural self.
    He has to pull out of the funk he found himself in today...and he certainly knows that!

  4. Charles Stamos, June 16, 2014 at 11:43 p.m.

    Best result possible so take the three points and move on to the next game/challenge. We will have to play better to stay with Portugal. Too bad about Altidore. No real player on the squad to take his place, so starting Wondo over Johannsson next game would be my choice. Besler and Bedoya need to play if healthy, but at least we know who can start in their places. I have to give credit to Dempsey for the first goal, and he did play well for the 90 minutes in tough conditions. Bradley made plays and mistakes, it's OK when he is forward , but troublesome when it leads to quick counters. Jones was outstanding and the rest of the team hung on for the victory. This game can be something to build upon. We needed to play games like this for the past 6 months to get WC ready. Good luck USA.

  5. charles davenport, June 17, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.

    I'd like to see either Davis or Zusi on the field at all times to deliver free kicks.

  6. Chris Sapien , June 17, 2014 at 3:56 a.m.

    So we come away with a heroic victory against a two-time nemesis, don't allow the champions of Africa to impose their will, survive when we have to sub-in for injuries, and all people can say is that WE have to play better against Portugal, who by the way, stunk it up against Germany and suffered their worst WC loss ever? With Pepe's suspension and contrau's injury, I would of thought at least one US supporter would have warned Portugal that they are next on our list of victims? Guess that's too much to ask for from US supporters on this site.

  7. Walt Pericciuoli, June 17, 2014 at 9:09 a.m.

    We should be happy with the win. I think that early goal shocked our players as much as it shocked the world. We looked like we were content to just defend the lead the rest of the way. I believe we will be better in the next game.Bradley will put his game back in order. I would be more concerned with injuries to Besler,as will as to Bedoya and Cameron. Both seemed to be struggling to finish the match.

  8. RAMON ZAPATA, June 17, 2014 at 10:02 a.m.

    Heroic,but they played a very bad team game. Something is missing badly and I hope it was just nervousness what made them pass and coordinate so badly.

  9. beautiful game, June 17, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.

    No one mentions how Ghana miscued so many times on counters, not because of the defense, but their own lapses of judgment.

  10. Doug Wiggins, June 18, 2014 at 2:48 a.m.

    We all have watched the USMT for the past year, we all KNOW they are better than they played Monday. We saw at least 2 players suffer common over-excertion/muscle-exhaustion injuries early in the game. Bottom-line .... Commandant Klinsman .... PLEASE .. RELAX ... give our boys a break, let them recover the way professional athletes recover ... LIMITED exercise, lots of stretching and massage, ice-hydro-electro therapy and of course all-you-can-eat HEALTHY food and water!

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