2014 World Cup / World Cup

World Cup Recap: USA 2-1 Ghana

Photo: Courtesy of US Soccer

The U.S. recorded a famous win in Natal on Monday, defeating Ghana 2–1, overcoming heat and humidity, injuries, and their own wayward passing. While there will be a time for analyzing what the U.S. did poorly, right now, all that matters is the score on the board.

First half

As expected, Jurgen Klinsmann fielded the same starting lineup as against Nigeria: Tim Howard in goal; Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and DaMarcus Beasley in defense; Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones in midfield; and Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top.

The game had barely begun—Ghana certainly hadn’t started playing—when the U.S. scored the first goal. From the kick-off, the U.S, won a header on the left side. Beasley threw to Dempsey, who returned it. Beasley played it straight up to Jones, who flicked the ball to Dempsey with one touch. Dempsey then drove into the box, cutting inside the defender, pulling the ball back onto his left foot and finishing across the keeper. The very pro-U.S. crowd went nuts, and the U.S. had a dream start. It was bad news for Ghana, too, now forced to come at the U.S. rather than playing on the counter, as they would have preferred.

The U.S. was only too happy to let Ghana take charge, choosing defensive shape over pushing the ball. Bar one excellent through ball that Howard did very well to meet, Ghana was restricted to speculative crosses. It took Ghana 20 minutes to get into the game, and by then, the U.S. almost had a second. Bedoya fed Johnson up the right side. Johnson’s cross made it to Altidore, but Altidore’s turn and shot was blocked.

From that point, Ghana found its feet and began causing the U.S. problems. But the worst problem wasn’t Ghana, but the U.S.’s declining health. In the 21st, while chasing down a long ball, Altidore pulled up with a hamstring injury, and was replaced by Aron Johannsson. Beckerman was on the receiving end of series of crunching tackles. And Dempsey received a shin to the face while challenging for a head ball, his nose coming out bloody and possibly broken.

In the midst of all that, Ghana carved out their best chance of the half. A Ghana throw in on the U.S. right led to Asamoah Gyan cutting inside and letting fly with a fierce shot. Howard did very well to get down and parry the ball wide and away from goal.

After 40 minutes, the U.S. looked to be walking the injury tightrope again, as Besler came up holding his hamstring after a challenge, but he played on.

Moments later, the first good move by the U.S. since the opening minutes led to a break. Johnson crossed for Dempsey, but the ball was just behind him. The ball fell to Johannsson at the top of the box, but he could not get a clean shot away.

Ghana had the last chance of the half. Beasley found himself caught upfield. Ghana sprinted into his space, and sent in a free cross. Jordan Ayew had a clear shot, but scuffed it, and the U.S. went into the half with the lead intact.

Second half

The U.S. were forced into a second injury substitution at the half, with John Brooks replacing Matt Besler. While the change seemed ominous at the time, it would turn out to be a masterstroke.

The first few minutes of the half saw the U.S. playing better, holding the ball in the Ghana half, but it wouldn’t last long. While Ghana wasn’t clicking, neither was the U.S., giving the ball straight back to Ghana every time possession was gained. The pattern was set: Ghana comes at the U.S., forced into crosses and speculative shots; the U.S. gets the ball, but does nothing.

The moments themselves hardly mattered, but as the half wore on, the crosses to Gyan got better, and his headers got more dangerous, drawing excellent saves from Tim Howard.

The best players for the U.S. were Beckerman and Jones, with both putting in immense defensive shifts, and Jones lashing in the U.S.’s best chance, forcing a save from the Ghana keeper in the 63rd minute.

The injury bug continued to plague the U.S., with Bedoya and Cameron at times looking hobbled. In the 77th, Bedoya was substituted for Zusi, which again would be an important change, as just minutes later, Ghana had the equalizer they had been threatening all game long.

Gyan received the ball in the U.S. box, backheeled into the path of Andrew Ayew, who finished well at Howard’s near post. Shortly after, Beckerman made a heroic tackle on Michael Essien before he could take a free shot from the top of the box.

While U.S. fans wallowed, thinking the game had gone, the U.S. team played on and, in truth, looked better. Something about giving up the goal picked the U.S.’s play up, and they won a corner. Zusi sent in a perfect ball from the right, and Brooks popped up to power a header into the ground and into the net.

Brooks’s face was priceless, and mirrored that of all U.S. fans and players: joy, disbelief, joy again. Brooks wasn’t done, either. He was needed to block another Essien chance, this time a header from a corner, just moments later.

With the clock ticking down, U.S. fans trembled to see that there would be five minutes of extra time. They (okay, let’s be honest, we) need not have worried, as Jones and the rest of the team calmly played out the clock for a famous U.S. win.

U.S. verdict

Bright start: The U.S. literally could not have started better, and it was both astonishing and absolutely necessary, considering the context of the rest of the game. Clint Dempsey: he tries ****. Thank the gods.

Fans out of this world: The U.S. fans rocked that stadium all game long. Thunderous cheers, bellowed songs—whether the team is ready for it, the U.S. fans mean business.

Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and John Brooks are heroes: This is the best day of John Brooks’s life. Kyle Beckerman laid down a marker, playing better than Michael Bradley. Jermaine Jones was the best player on the U.S. team.

Removing the rose-colored glasses: Injuries. Poor play by Michael Bradley. An utter lack of coherent possession play. All of these problems might be mitigated, but they are serious problems. Portugal, the U.S.’s next opponent, has problems of its own, but the U.S. will need to be much better to keep the good times rolling.

Final thoughts

This was a phenomenal win. This was a phenomenally ugly win. All that matters on the day is the points earned, but looking ahead, the U.S. has a lot of work to do. With luck, Besler heals well. Maybe Jozy, too. Bradley needs to wake up and take better care of the ball.

But savor this. The last time the U.S. won its opening game in the World Cup was 2002, when Portugal was famously defeated. Before that? 1930. This is the World Cup. This is the drama we’ve been waiting for. Savor it.


  1. The game was the definition of “Nervy”. US is gonna have to better than that if Portugal comes out for blood.
    If they decide to sulk/fold/head home that performance will be fine.

  2. ‘Jermaine Jones was the best player on the U.S team’…. head…explodes. Don’t disagree, just unexpected.

    Really hope Bradley got his bad game out of his system, not going to get away with that performance in next two matches. The pass he sailed over Bedoya’s head with no pressure was just ugly.

  3. Old soccer coach says:

    A detail, the teams were not “level” at half time!

  4. james lockerbie says:

    Awesome result, yes there were some poor passes/decisions but overall good game! Hope Jozy can recover in time for sunday. Go U.S.A!

    • I have no hope that Jozy will recover in time for Sunday or any time this summer. As I see it, he bends forward to head the ball just as his left hip is extended. Too much stretching involved. It was, sorry, a clumsy move and I think that hamstring is torn.

    • Sports Doc on ESPN figured it was likely a 2nd Degree Strain (partial tear), which would likely knock him out for at least the rest of the qualifying round. I’ve popped hamstrings like that twice, in very similar fashion, and it took a good month or so to full heal. Clearly, I’m no World Class athlete though. He could probably be back in 2 weeks.

  5. This could be the high point. Enjoy it.

  6. While I have no voice today and am thrilled the US won the game, the shell they crawled into after scoring in first minute is troubling. A really good team would have looked to end that game in the first 20 minutes and instead we became completely content with absorbing pressure and expecting to hold a 1-0 lead for 89 minutes. Nervy is a good word. Michael Bradley simply has to play better. Taylor Twellman talking about how hard he worked, yada yada yada- he was decent on defense but nearly atrocious with the ball. They called him the General at Roma and for the US to stand any chance in next 2 games he has to play much better. I hold him accountable for the lack of possession and cohesion. He needs a lot more touches on the ball, productive ones, and to orchestrate his team from one end to the other.
    I give Jermaine Jones a ton of grief, but this morning, he deserves immense credit for that victory. Jeff Cameron played quite nicely as well.

  7. Tim Howard was also among our best. I know it’s expected, but his saves still deserve a shout out. – I think the US decided to let Ghana cross which was ultimately a great tactic.

  8. If Portugal is allowed that much possession it will be a very different result on Sunday. Ghana had way to many chances to score.

  9. Well summarized, Jeremy! Now let’s hope Bradley will get back on track on Sunday and Johanssen will show up. Let’s all show up at Fado’s on Sunday! They’ll close off 15th str and put a screen out in the street (just like at the last WC final). Should be a blast!

  10. Was not too impressed with Johanssen after he came on for Jozy. Against Portugal I hope to see a 4-2-3-1 with Brad Davis moving into the left spot and Dempsey up top. Maybe even give Zusi the start on the right.

  11. I’d start Wondo up top with Dempsey next game. While not a target forward, I do feel like he’d make checking runs back to the midfielders to help out a bit more possession.

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