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U.S. 2, Ghana 1: Finally, a recap

by Matt Traub
Jun 17, 2014 12:32 PM EDT



It registers as three points on the scoreboard but for any U.S. soccer fan, it means much more.
The Ghana curse is exorcised, shattered in a dramatic 2-1 victory that was every bit a tension-filled equal to the teams’ 2010 second-round meeting was. “Always more than sum of their parts,” London sports writer Oliver Kay tweeted about the U.S. late Monday night, but there’s a better way of describing the U.S.: the definition of team.
There is no man of the match. The FourFourTwo Stats Zone, a heavenly website for advanced soccer analytics, has a feature for ‘Player Influence’ for each team. For Ghana, there were a couple of names that were much bigger than the others because of their outsized influence. For the U.S., overall it was equal. It was a team game.
It started in goal with Tim Howard, who made the few saves he was called upon to make, beaten once on – upon review – was a rather tricky shot that may not have been intended to go near post. Howard was decisive when he came out for crosses, and his positional sense was good in calling out and working with his defenders, especially when things changed at halftime because of an injury to …
Matt Besler, which was unfortunate because the Sporting Kansas City left center back was having a solid game before feeling a twinge in his hamstring and taken off at halftime for precautionary measures. Besler did a tremendous job jumping quickly to help defensively on the left flank to make sure the U.S. was never outnumbered in open space. If his leg is OK for Portugal on Sunday, he should still start even if the hero ended up being his replacement …
John Anthony Brooks, the scorer of the game-winner in the 86th minute on a corner kick in which there were no tricks, Brooks just got to a cross ahead of his marker. While hard to look beyond that goal given its impact, Brooks was solid defensively. He had one or two half-moments of worry, but listened to Howard’s instructions and by the end of the game was strong. For a guy who most people were surprised that he was even invited to World Cup camp let alone put on the final 23, Brooks only strengthened the feeling that he could still be potentially the next great center back. For this day though, the present great center back was …
Geoff Cameron, one of the standouts for the U.S. With each succeeding game for the U.S., it’s hard to sometimes remember that center back is not the position that Cameron has been playing for the past year, having been sent to right back for Stoke City. Cameron’s positioning was terrific all game and he made a terrific 14 clearances in the defensive zone, one of the main reasons that Ghana was only 13 of 38 on crosses. Though Ghana’s goal came from his side of the field, he was not at fault because that was …
Fabian Johnson’s mistake at right back for not tracking his runner. The U.S. was pretty well set up defensively when Ghana did score because Johnson switched off for just that one second. Given that his next opponent is Ronaldo, that won’t be pleasant. But Johnson did do a good job early of going forward, especially on one change directly after Dempsey’s goal when a run to the touchline drew the attention of five (no, really, five) Ghana defenders before the final pass failed him. Johnson could have had a busier day in theory, with Ghana’s Asamoah being one of his team’s best players. Instead, Ghana to a degree ignored Johnson’s flank because they were so focused on …
DeMarcus Beasley’s side. From the opening touch, Ghana went directly to the left side of the U.S. defense, intent on testing Beasley. But because of intelligent positioning by teammates giving him plenty of help, realistically, Beasley had a busy but not overwhelming defensive list of duties. His heat map on FourFourTwo actually showed equal amounts of passing in the offensive half for the U.S. Attacking the left is going to be a part of each successive opponent’s game plan and why wouldn’t it? But Beasley held up for the first game, and is ready for tests ahead, and did not make any big mistakes in no small part because of …
... Jermaine Jones’ spectacular night, which started with a wonderful flick-on fo Dempsey to score his goal, was filled with defensive duties on the left and even an occasional run forward. Jones was composed, professional, and in the times where Ghana wanted to get a little rough, Jones did not back down but instead relished it per his persona. It was one of his best international appearances and came at a perfect time since …
Michael Bradley, by his standards, was subpar. He was expected to be the driving, creative force in midfield but instead served more of a defensive role to make sure the U.S. had numbers back when Ghana attacked on the flanks (more on that later this week). One glaring number was he was only 50 percent on passes in the offensive half, which cannot continue for any U.S. success. The U.S. will need much better from him, especially linking with ..
… The Alejandro Bedoya/Graham Zusi two-headed monster. There was work and grit, and Zusi’s wonderful corner kick for the game-winner. Going forward, there will be need to be more, uh, forward work from the duo. That may be a little troublesome in the next game, having to help Johnson deal with that little matter of Ronaldo, but the Bedoya/Zusi outlet will be important for Bradley to help spread the ball around rather than hold onto it. With Jones staying disciplined to help Beasley instead of charging forward, the flank attack needs to be from this pair. And they can charge forward more knowing that behind them …
Kyle Beckerman is so tactically disciplined that he knows to cover out wide if need be. Beckerman will never be the star of this team except for tactical ‘nerds’ (like me) who appreciate his awareness on the field. He went out wide to make sure the U.S. was not out-numbered if need be, and when Besler went out wide to help Beasley in the first half, Beckerman ducked into Besler’s space to make sure no runs inside the box would be an option. It was stellar work for a guy who started his career as a forward, the position played by …
Jozy Altidore/Aron Johannsson. Altidore had a shot early that was blocked but looked lively before injury, and ArJo looked, well, lost, frankly, separated badly from the rest of the team in their formation and unable to provide the hold-up work that Altidore can and relishes to do. More later this week on this as well, but forward becomes a key spot for the U.S. because …
Clint Dempsey cannot do it all. It was a terrific goal, and overall can be summed up in one way – if you think watching the game was stressful, well, Dempsey played it without being able to breathe through his nose most of the game after being kicked in the face. It was not a great effort overall, but it didn’t need to be.
Look, Monday’s win guarantees nothing; only one team since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams has advanced out of group play with as few as three points, Chile in 1998. The U.S. will absolutely need at least a tie against either Portugal or Germany, and even with a tie against Portugal in the next game, there exists the possibility that the U.S. with a loss to Germany could not quality.
But that’s for another day. For this day, what the U.S. needed for itself, for its fans, was to exorcise some ghosts, and to give everyone more time to dream of if further success would be possible. They did, it is, and because of that now, to paraphrase the American Outlaws: Everybody Believes That We Will Win.