We bent. We broke. But did we buckle? Hell no.
The #USMNT escape Natal with three points, finally defeating arch-nemesis Ghana in a cagey 2-1 match. An early strike from Clint Dempsey and a game winner from young wunderkind John Brooks gifted Jurgen”s Yanks a win against a Ghanaian team that did everything right except win.
As I wrote in my match preview, this game wasn”t about revenge or vanquishing the demons of past defeat. Jurgen Klinsmann doesn”t care about Claudio Reyna”s 2006 collapse or Ricardo Clark”s 2010 giveaway. As Klinsmann has reminded us time and time and time again since taking command in 2011, the only thing that matters is what you do today.
For the United States, today is the 2014 World Cup.
To face Ghana, Klinsmann trotted out the same starting XI that defeated Nigeria in Jacksonville nearly two weeks ago.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 16, 2014
Though a diamond midfield in theory, starting a trio of central players gives Klinsmann the latitude to make positional adjustments mid-game. When dominating the run of play, Michael Bradley can drift upfield to orchestrate possession and stifle nascent Ghanaian attacks. When under siege, Bradley and Jermaine Jones can provide cover alongside Kyle Beckerman whose positional discipline and reliable play have earned him the starting job shielding the back four.
How would Klinsmann”s selections fare against Ghana, a team that matches the United States physically with the skill and creativity to unlock a bunkered defense? Let”s find out.
The Match Report
During kickoffs,one of my high school soccer coaches always had us boot the ball directly onto the feet of the other team”s left back. Why, you ask? Our coach figured that most mediocre high school teams would stash their worst player at left back so why not force him to make a play—or more likely a mistake—early in the match.
Straight from Coach Constantine”s playbook, Clint Dempsey, the pride of Nacgodoches, Texas, found a seam between Ghana”s back line in the first minute, and, with a nifty cut, danced across John Boye before rifling a shot off the far post and into the net. 1-0, United States. In that moment, America felt as big as the Texas of Tim Riggins”s dreams, and we all sat on his front porch, swilling Lone Star and collectively admiring the sun melt into purples and reds and golds across an unbroken frontier. The American Outlaws didn”t need to believe anymore: WE WERE WINNING! But Dempsey”s artful goal turned out to be a fleeting moment of ecstasy during an exhausting (and occasionally thrilling) 90 minutes of action for American fans.
Defend the Wall
Except for short stretches of the game, the U.S. adopted the Castle Black approach to football: defend until the last man. This was not the American game plan, but the Yanks didn”t execute the little things right and losing target striker Jozy Altidore–the only American forward capable of strong hold-up play–to an injury didn”t help. Michael Bradley, the best American central midfielder, didn”t look sharp and his team floundered against an energetic and athletic Ghanaian squad. Without possession, the U.S. had little choice but to sit deep and wait for Ghana”a relentless assaults like the men of the Nights Watch. And attack Ghana did, especially down the left flank. As Jermaine Jones pressed high, DaMarcus Beasley was exposed, and Ghana launched cross after hopeful cross from his side of the field. The United States were lucky to escape the first half without conceding a goal thanks to some heroic goal keeping from Timmy Howard.
In the 2nd half, the Americans marginally addressed their left flank problem, dropping Michael Bradley alongside Kyle Beckerman and defending deep with two nbso online casino reviews banks of four, but without any substantial American possession, Ghana still had plenty of space to operate. After relentless pressure, Andre Ayew burned Fabian Johnson with a crafty run and shot, beating Howard near post.
Ghana continued to threaten throughout the game, but name an American player, and you can probably find a hard-nosed tackle that they were involved in late in the match. Look at Dempsey here. Even Captain America, not always known for his defensive work rate, is backing that thing up to keep Ghana off the ball in stoppage time. You watching, Shakira?
No one American had a standout offensive performance last night, but the team held together and defended the wall, and it worked.
The Cold War, Reconsidered
I”m fairly certain that when historians start writing syntheses of the 2nd half of the twentieth century, they”ll highlight the infusion of German-American footballing talent as one of the major unintended consequences of the Cold War. John Brooks, one of the younger prospects to emerge from this pipeline, entered at halftime for an injured Matt Besler. After a nervy first touch almost gifted Ghana an opportunity to equalize, Brooks proved to be a solid replacement for Besler and made several timely tackles.
And then Brooks did this.
One more time.
America 2, Ghana 1. Other sites will dissect Zusi”s cross, highlight Ghana”s lackadaisical marking and comment on the quintessential Americanness of scoring a goal on a set piece against the run of play. But we”re here to talk about his reaction after the goal.
Brooks”s face emits the full range of human emotion: joy, shock, love, wonder, disbelief. He ends his celebration on the ground, seeking something solid, firm, to buttress against the spectacle surrounding him: blinding hot, white light. This is how America felt in that moment.
After the game, Brooks told reporters that he dreamed about scoring a goal in the 80th minute two nights ago. Keep on dreaming, young Johnny. Joe approves.
America, the Beautiful
After we beat Nigeria, I invited y”all to the McDonald”s in Rio with me. We loaded up twenty-piece McNuggets and oreo McFlurries before hitting the tarmac and hopping a flight over to Natal with 25,000 other red-blooded, virile American Outlaws singing “I believe.”
Did you hear us? Of course you did. You were there, too.
Haters will tell you that Ghana out-possessed the United States. They”ll say that Jozy”s hurt and Bradley”s off his game and everybody”s got worse hamstrings than an over-40 men”s team. They”ll look at shot charts and graphs and try to quantify all that is ineffable about our beautiful game: the blood dripping down Dempsey”s nose, the sweat pooling in Kyle”s dreads, whiplashing Michael Essien”s face in the 84th minute like a pair of hippie nunchucks.
We bent. We broke. But did we buckle? Hell no.
This is the United States. We don”t dwell on the mediocre.
Savor the fire in Clint Dempsey. Worship at the altar of Tim Howard”s beard. Name your firstborn son Kyle and scent his room with patchouli so he grows up with the rasta spirit already burning inside him. When you question yourself and America, think about Mix”s hair, the soft flip, the calculated mess. Stay cool, America. Stay focused. We”re heading to the Amazon, to the tangled heart of the jungle. It”s like CONCACAF on crystal, baby. I can”t wait.
This week”s injury time is really all about, well, injuries. Jozy and Besler definitely will need to be evaluated throughout the week. If they can”t go (which is likely), Jurgen has some serious lineup decisions to make, especially with a squad light on veteran talent. I can”t imagine Klinsmann wouldn”t want a Michael Parkhurst or an Eddie Johnson in the 23-man squad right now. Without those options, it looks Aron “Saracen” Johannsson will start alongside Dempsey at forward.
Aron Johannsson = Matt Saracen. C'mon #7 #ClearEyesFullHearts
— Eight by Eight (@8by8mag) June 16, 2014
It”s time to toughen up, seven (yes, I know you wear #9 for the USA but you Saracen so are you seven). You”re not in Holland anymore. If AronJo or Wondo can”t fill Jozy”s shoes, be sure to bring a defibrillator to your local soccer bar because we”re in for 180 minutes of bunker ball against Portugal and Germany. Defend and counter will be the name of the game.
Jurgen Wardrobe Report
[This week, Andrew Helms imagines Jurgen”s complex relationship with his favorite blue polo shirt.]
— Eight by Eight (@8by8mag) June 16, 2014
After the Nigeria tune-up in Jacksonville two weeks ago, Jurgen returned to his hotel room still wearing the blue polo that sparked the U.S. team to a 2nd straight victory. Cradling the shirt like the switch to an Atomic bomb, he folded it tightly—soft hands kneading the fabric like a ball of dough—and placed it in his carry-on for the flight to Brazil with great ceremony.
Jurgen”s not told Berti about the shirt. Even his oldest friends won”t believe him. He knows this.
At night, there”s an undeniable, incandescent hum, audible only to Jurgen, radiating from the blue polo. In crisp diction, it announces, “Wear me if you want to go to another level.”
Yesterday, Jurgen donned the polo before the game, letting it glide gently over his torso, each stitch and fiber beating in rhythm with his breath. In the tunnel as Jurgen walked onto the field, it felt as if the shirt embraced him, a reassuring, soft hug. In that moment, he caught a whiff of freshly baked bread, the scent of his mother”s love. In Natal, the late evening sun cascaded one final beam of light over his face, and Jurgen smiled, knowing victory was only 90 minutes away.
Jurgen didn”t choose the blue polo. The blue polo chose him.
— Eight by Eight (@8by8mag) June 17, 2014
What did you think of the U.S. 2-1 victory over Ghana? Will Jozy be fit to play against Portugal? Will Aron Johannsson and John Brooks enter the starting XI? Will the Yanks hold up in the soul-crushing heat of Manaus? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter at @andrew_helms and @8by8mag.