Imagine being Clint Dempsey. The man who burst on to the International scene with a goal against Ghana in 2006 was at a career crossroads. His move back to MLS was questioned, as was his ability to still perform at the international level. He answered the critics, scoring the USMNT’s opening goal before the game was yet a minute old.
Imagine being John Brooks. In less than a year, he went from USA hopeful, to hot prospect, to savior, to not ready. Most of us thought he was done for this cycle after struggling mightily in a friendly against Ukraine. Instead, he picked himself up, had a strong end to his club season and made the final 23 for the World Cup. He answered the critics as well, scoring a headed goal in the 86th minute that lifted the USMNT past Ghana.
Imagine being Jürgen Klinsmann. He was appointed in 2011 to take American soccer to the next level. He used unorthodox lineups, tinkered with the formation, recruited foreign players and even fired assistant coaches. The one constant: he kept winning. He was brought in to win the big games. Ghana was the first of those games. He answered the critics, USA 2, Ghana 1.
Now, remember your time as a USMNT fan. We felt the lowest of World Cup lows in 1998 and 2006, flaming out badly amid increased expectations. We felt unparalleled highs in 2002, with an improbable run to quarterfinals. The script was repeated in 2010, when Landon Donovan’s goal defeated Algeria and won Group C. Still, we could never get past Ghana. Well, we damn sure answered the critics because we kept chanting, “I believe that will we win” and guess what, on a humid night in Natal, we sure as hell did.
Dan Popko and I took time out from celebrating the victory to grade the match. Grades are scored from 1 to 10, with 1 being worst and 10 being that feeling of sweet, sweet revenge.
Tim Howard: 5.5
This was around an 8.5/9 for the first 81 minutes of the match. Commanded his area well and was in good position for much of the game. Then in the 82nd minute he left the near post open, allowing Ghana’s Andre Ayew to tie the game off a great pass from Asamoah Gyan. He will bounce back from that moment.
Fabian Johnson: 5
He was unable to get forward with the effectiveness displayed against Turkey and Nigeria, which really hurt the USA attack. He was not the sharpest on defense either, but was able to get the job done on that end. May need to force the issue going down the wing against Portugal.
Geoff Cameron: 7
Spent the entire night defending his ass off. Was instrumental in shutting things down in the first half. Also did well to guide Brooks through the second half. Communication was much better. He was in great position, but had no chance to make an impact on Ayew’s goal.
Matt Besler: 6.5
Had one bad giveaway, which seems to happen every game. Like Cameron, defended well, and covered DaMarcus Beasley on the left flank. Came up lame late in the first half, but fought through to the whistle. Subbed off for precautionary reasons — we hope — at halftime. Hamstring a concern moving forward.
DaMarcus Beasley: 6
He was more active than Johnson going forward, and had periods of success getting the ball in dangerous areas. Competed well on defense, and did not back down despite almost every Ghana attack in the first half coming his way. It’s not going to get any easier, and I’m not sure if he can raise his game another level either.
Kyle Beckerman: 7.5
A defensive force. The majority of Ghana’s offense came off shots from distance. The reason, Beckerman was not letting anyone get into the box on his watch. With the USMNT on its heels for much of the match, he was there every damn time. Distribution was fine from the defensive midfield spot. Dan Popko’s Man of the Match.
Alejandro Bedoya: 6.5
He competed as hard as he could. Was a big part of the rare USA attacks, making smart passes and keeping possession. He did everything in his power to limit Kwadwo Asamoah’s effectiveness going forward. Was subbed off in the 77th minute, completely exhausted and grabbing a hamstring himself.
Jermaine Jones: 7.5
Another who gave maximum effort. Picked up the assist — I use that term loosely — on Dempsey’s opening goal and actually had good moments going forward. Drew a foul in a dangerous spot and even had a long range effort on goal. His work defensively was impeccable, making tackle after tackle. He, Beckerman and Bedoya should be proud of their efforts on that end. My Man of the Match.
Michael Bradley: 4
If I told you that USA would beat Ghana despite Michael Bradley having his worst performance in years, you would have called me crazy. He struggled to make the right decision, and many of his passes were off the mark. In the last minute of the match, instead of dribbling to the corner flag he lofted a ball into the box that Ghana keeper Adam Kwarasey handled, which led to one last attack. The USMNT will need to be sharper against Portugal, and it starts here.
Clint Dempsey: 7
Kicked off the action by scoring the fifth quickest opening goal in World Cup history, and what a goal it was. Dribbled past the Ghana defense and coolly buried the finish. If not for some guy named van Persie, it may be the prettiest goal of the tournament. He was fairly quiet, other than getting kicked straight in the nose, but kept competing. His ability to provide moments of brilliance have led to moments of USA joy for almost a decade.
Jozy Altidore: 6
Looked really good for the first twenty minutes of the match. Had a shot in the box deflected and it appeared he was going to physically overpower Ghana’s centerbacks for ninety minutes. Then he seemed to completely do his hamstring, and had to be carried off in the 23rd minute. Status very much in doubt for Portugal, and the rest of this tournament.
Aron Jóhannsson: 6
His grade would be lower, if not for the circumstances of his appearance. Had no idea that he’d have to enter in the first half, but did in the 23rd minute. He did not bring the hold up play that Jozy does — which could lead to a Chris Wondolowski sighting in the very near future — but he is dangerous with the ball at his feet. Did not get many touches in his 70+ minutes of action.
John Anthony Brooks: 7.5
Meet your newest USMNT hero. Scored the goal of his life when he headed in the winner in the 86th minute. Defended well too after being subbed at halftime, blocking shots, making tackles and doing everything he could. Had one awful clearance early on in the second half, but recovered and was able to draw a foul. If Besler cannot go, he has a chance to repeat his heroics against Portugal.
Graham Zusi: 7
Came on in the 77th minute and defended admirably. In the 86th minute, his corner kick led to Brooks’ winner. The USMNT is incredibly dangerous on set pieces, and Zusi is a huge reason why.