2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Three things to take away from magical US victory

Published: June 17, 2014, 5:36 am, by Scott Kaniewski
Team USA player surround John Brooks after he scored the game-winning goal to defeat Ghana 2-1 on  Monday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Team USA players surround John Brooks after he scored the game-winning goal to defeat Ghana 2-1 on Monday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Simply unbelievable. There’s not much other way to put it.

The United States men’s soccer team scored less than a minute into the game, then struggled to do anything offensively, eventually surrendering the lead in the 82nd.

Not to worry. Central defender (yes, defender) John Brooks, substituted in at halftime for Matt Besler, headed in a corner kick in the 86th minute to claim the victory and the all-important three points to lead the US past Ghana 2-1 on Monday.

It took all of 32 seconds to see the US capture the 1-0 lead behind Clint Dempsey’s left-footed goal off the far post. It was the fastest US goal in team history and the fifth fastest in World Cup history. But after that there was little to celebrate for the Americans until Brooks’ memorable goal.

And that’s cause for concern. Or is it?

1. Injuries

United States striker Jozy Altidore holds his hand to his face as he lies on the pitch after pulling up injured against Ghana on  Monday. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

United States striker Jozy Altidore holds his hand to his face as he lies on the pitch after pulling up injured against Ghana on Monday. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

No question, this is the most concerning result of the US opener. Striker Jozy Altidore saw just 21 minutes of play before leaving with a strained hamstring.

When the second half began, Besler was benched also with a hamstring injury.

The Besler injury proved not to be as worrisome. He should be able to return at some point in the World Cup. And following a poor first touch from Brooks that resulted in a quality chance for Ghana, the 21-year-old settled down and played admirably against a very speedy Ghanaian attacking side.

The Altidore injury is much more problematic.

Aron Johannsson came on in place of Altidore and didn’t do a whole lot. Johannsson can score. That’s not the question. But he’s a different style of striker than Altidore is. Altidore is a big, strong, hold-up-the-ball style of forward. He had a couple chances in what little time he saw.

Altidore was scheduled to undergo evaluation  Tuesday. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he is ruled out for a lengthy amount of time.

So the US had to use two of its three substitutions in the first 45 minutes. That left for just one sub late in the second half when so many players were showing signs of fatigue. It’s part of the game, but an uncharacteristic part to claim two players in one half. The US, renowned for its extreme physical training under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, shouldn’t have to deal with that same problem Sunday against Portugal.

 

2. Defensive by nature? No. Defensive by necessity.

Plenty of social media comments were highly critical of the US for trying to play a defensive style for 90 minutes. That sentiment was just plain wrong.

The United States was not in a defensive shell for the majority of the game because of strategy. They were in a defensive style because Ghana forced them to be.

When left back DaMarcus Beasley could get forward he did. On the rare occasions right back Fabian Johnson could get forward he did. Midfielder Jermaine Jones was all over the field yet again.

It wasn’t that the US didn’t get forward for lack of trying, it was because circumstance and mistakes forced them to stay back.

They turned the ball over unnecessarily. And did it time and again. It left them having to defend and defending is so much more work than attacking.

In the 42nd minute the US had a great counter started by Alejandro Bedoya and ended when Johannsson’s shot bounced harmlessly into Ghana goalie Adam Kwarasey’s hands. But it was a succession of smart, sharp passes that allowed for the attack. One of the few chances because it was one of the rare occasions the US completed multiple passes.

There’s a difference in sitting back and trying to defend. The US will very well do that against Germany and possibly against Portugal. This was a game they didn’t intend to. They just had to and they lucked out with it.

 

3. Paging Michael Bradley. Will Michael Bradley please answer the US courtesy call.

Midfielder Michael Bradley is the offensive engine that makes the US go. He was hard to spot on the pitch with the ball, and because of it the US attack suffered.

Michael Bradley, left, and Ghana's Andre Ayew challenge for the ball during Monday's World Cup game. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Michael Bradley, left, and Ghana’s Andre Ayew challenge for the ball during Monday’s World Cup game. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Bradley didn’t drop deep in a defensive style that could be faulted for going missing throughout the game. He just wasn’t there.

And when the second half rolled around, Bradley seemed to be exhausted. He was never in support and rarely pushed the ball forward, instead going backward with it and keeping his teammates on their heels.

Bradley can’t have this bad of a game again or the US will surely come up short against Portugal and Germany.

Maybe the Ghana midfield had a lot to do with shutting down Bradley. When he did get on the ball he was often hounded quickly by a couple Ghanaians. And when he didn’t have the ball but the US did, at least one Ghana player often raced to the American to make sure he couldn’t join the attack.

For playing a so-called diamond formation, Jermaine Jones, at left mid, got forward nearly as much as Bradley did at the top of the diamond.

Don’t expect that to happen again. Bradley should be pulled aside and shown how multiple star players in this year’s tournament (Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, to name a couple) did a lot of walking during games. The heat and humidity wear players down. And those who are going to cover a lot of ground have adapted to save their energy, expending it when necessary, conserving it for later in the game.

If Bradley does that, the attack and the US will be fine.