Day five from Brazil brought us two lumps of coal and the best match yet.
Germany vs. Portugal disappointed, Nigeria vs. Iran anesthetized, but Ghana vs. the U.S offered the best entertainment of the tournament so far. In the day’s first match, Portugal was vulnerable and unorganized in central defense, having already lost the game well before the thirty-seventh minute, when Pepe succumbed to a flash of frustration and was shown a red card for his efforts. The drubbing only continued from there. In the second match, Iran seemed to be playing for a scoreless draw from the outset and Nigeria was mysteriously willing to oblige. It was enough to make the most fervent soccer fan numb.
And then came the third match, Ghana vs. the U.S.A.
Just 34 seconds into the match, Clint Dempsey made an unstoppable run, and when he scored, it was clear this would be the game of the day. The Americans adopted a counter-attacking strategy for the match, but Jozy Altidore pulling a hamstring in the 23rd minute blunted the threat of that approach. Adding to the pressure was, first, Clint Dempsey being kicked in the face and having to leave the pitch for a time and then, second, Besler developing his own hamstring issues.
By the start of the second half, when Brooks was substituted for Besler, it was clear the U.S. was in total defensive mode. They rarely broke out, and when they did, the ball was often simply dumped in Ghana’s half for easy retrieval by their opponent. Pressure continued to mount as Ghana dominated possession and shots on goal. Howard made several crucial stops but eventually succumbed to Andre Ayew in the 82nd minute.
But what happened next might define this squad for quite some time. In the 86th minute, off a perfectly struck corner, Brooks converted a header and the U.S. was back on top. Nine long, white-knuckled minutes later, the U.S. had secured three points from a grueling duel. They now sit second place in the Group of Death, not the worst position to be in by any means. Next up for the U.S is a very pissed off and desperate Portugal. Should be fun.
Of note: When Brooks scored, it marked the first time in American World Cup history that a substitute had scored off the bench. When Dempsey scored in 34 seconds, it was the fastest ever score by an American in World Cup history and the sixth quickest overall in World Cup history. With that score, Dempsey also became the first American to score in three different World Cups.