The United States men's national team defeated Ghana 2-1 on Monday night in its opening game of the 2014 World Cup on the strength of goals from Clint Dempsey and John Anthony Brooks.
After going up 1-0 in the first minute of play on Dempsey's strike, the Americans conceded an equalizer in the 82nd minute. Then, in a thrilling finish, the U.S. found the winner in the 86th minute on a header from Brooks.
Here are six things we learned from the match.
Clint Dempsey's Goal Was Individual Brilliance:
There isn't much to say about Dempsey's opening goal against Ghana, other than it was simply brilliant. After receiving the ball outside the Ghanaian box, Dempsey beat a defender and then, before help arrived, calmly slotted home a beautiful left-footed finish only 31 seconds into.
Jermaine Jones Got Away with One:
Just before the half, the fears of many USMNT fans nearly came true when Jermaine Jones kicked out at Sulley Muntari.
The infraction was apparently not seen by the center official, and Jones did not receive so much as a yellow card. It could have been much, much worse.
To be fair, Jones had a good game covering loads of ground and putting in a great effort overall. However, those small moments of unreliability have popped up before in Jones. Going forward, he needs to stay in control for the good of the team.
Jozy Altidore's Hold-Up Play Was Missed:
When Jozy Altidore was in his scoring slump, many continued to praise his hold-up play—which at many times was excellent. However, some fans, wanting to see goals, rarely recognized and sometimes even mocked those who praised Altidore for his "hold-up" play.
It was evident on Monday night, once Jozy was forced to leave the match, how valuable his play really is to the U.S. When he left the game in the first half, the man many fans clamored to replace him up top, Aron Johannsson, was put into the lineup.
And while Johannsson is no doubt a skilled and extremely technical player, he simply couldn't provide the physical presence up top that the U.S. needed to transition out of the defensive third. This was especially obvious through most of the second half when the U.S. were pinned back deep in their own end for long stretches.
The Defensive Effort Was Fantastic
While the U.S. did concede a late equalizer, no one could question their effort during the game. The defense played well for most of the 90 minutes and the midfield (especially Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya) worked extremely hard to cover nearly every blade of grass on the field.
Matt Besler was having a great game before coming off with an injury, Geoff Cameron was solid and DaMarcus Beasley, while tested repeatedly, also made a number of important plays.
What an Appearance for John Anthony Brooks
Back in March, after a disastrous performance against Ukraine, few would have predicted that John Anthony Brooks would have even made the World Cup roster, let alone play the hero in the team's opening match against an opponent that knocked it out of the World Cup two times in a row.
Coming into the game for an injured Besler, Brooks did have one particularly shaky moment in the 51st minute when an awful clearance almost gifted Ghana an equalizer, but he worked his way into the match, providing a number of vital clearances, and then went on to score the game-winning goal deep into the second half.
The game was Brooks' first appearance for the United States in an official FIFA tournament, and he played the hero role perfectly.
Did Jurgen Klinsmann Get It Right?
United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann can be given credit for a number of positives in his tenure as head coach, but one has to wonder whether he got it right on Monday.
His tactics (especially finding a way to get Beckerman, Jones and Bradley onto the field in a cohesive and effective scheme) seemed solid until Altidore was forced to leave the match, at which point it appeared he changed the U.S. into a 4-4-2. From that point on, the U.S. struggled to hold possession of the ball or generate any sort of transition in the middle third of the field.
The fact that three separate players also were forced to leave the game with apparent muscle pulls left much to question as well. Klinsmannpushed fitness in the U.S.' World Cup preparation, but perhaps he overdid it, as Besler, Altidore and Bedoya all had to be pulled from the match due to non-contact injuries.
It certainly could have been bad luck, and it's tough to be hard onKlinsmann considering the U.S. got a result, but the injuries forced the U.S. into early substitutions, and the team went into a defensive shell far too early. The Ghanaians clearly dominated possession in the second half, and the U.S. were forced to ride their luck as Ghana missed shot after shot.
American fans should feel good after seeing their team finally defeat the Black Stars, but in the sober light of the morning, they'll still have to admit they did get a bit lucky.