JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: A great day for the U.S. of A.
So, how’d you like that, America? What an absolutely thrilling game that was, even if it some of the football was far from well played at times. From a results standpoint things could not have gone better yesterday. The U.S win combined with Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, puts the Americans in a really good position after the first round of games in their group, sitting comfortably second. (That scenario sounds familiar. I wonder where I read about that before. Oh yeah, right here. #notsohumblebrag) As an added bonus, Portugal will likely be without two of their starting backline through red card suspension and injury when they face the U.S. on Sunday. There’s still all to play for, but things really could not have shaken out better from a U.S. perspective yesterday.
Here’s the thing though, after Clint Dempsey’s stunning early goal, the U.S. really didn’t play very well from an attacking standpoint, though I think you can pin a lot of that on Jozy Altidore’s unfortunate early injury, which looks to be quite serious. Altidore serves as the focal point for the U.S attack, using his size and strength to receive and hold the ball, allowing players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to get forward and play off him. The U.S. has talented, if inexperienced forwards they can turn to, but they are different kinds of players. If Altidore is out for any extended period of time, which it appears he will be, the U.S. will need to shift tactics since they lack another “target man” to fill Altidore’s role.
With Altidore out and the attack misfiring, the U.S. was forced to play a more defensive game, and an already young and inexperienced defense was tested further when starting center back Matt Besler was forced off an half with an injury of his own, to be replaced by 21 year old John Brooks, playing in his first competitive match for the U.S. In fact, until he took the field yesterday, Brooks, who has dual German-American citizenship, was still eligible to play for Germany internationally. If his name sounds familiar to you now, it’s because he scored the winning goal with a thumping header in the 86th minute and instantly became an American folk hero. Here’s how his Wikipedia entry read for a brief period after the match.
It almost seemed inevitable that Ghana would score in the second half given the amount of pressure they put on the U.S. goal, and score they did, but the U.S. was able to respond in a fashion that has long been our most potent source of goals, via a corner kick. Goals on set pieces are often the result of the delivery as much as the finish, and Graham Zusi, a second half substitute, delivered a beauty in the danger area, which a virtually unmarked Brooks confidently nodded into the ground and the goal to seal the three points. As important as the goal was though, the U.S. was kept in a position to win the game thanks to the efforts of their dreadlocked midfield duo of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, who both were defensive rocks in the midfield, running and tackling tirelessly all over the field and helping to offset a curiously poor game from Michael Bradley. A big shout out as well to goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was his usual commanding presence and made some excellent saves down the stretch to deny Ghana additional goals.
So yes, the U.S. did not play particularly well, and I doubt Germany are shaking in their methodical, Portugal-eviscerating boots at the prospect of having to face us in two weeks. No matter though. I take heart in the spirit and determination displayed by the Americans, and choose to look at this game and say that we really couldn’t play more poorly and still won against our international bogie team. My irrational exuberance has actually escalated from “we’re going to advance from our group” to “we’re going to win the World Cup.” How could you not be fired up by this?
Well, maybe not, but I think yesterday confirmed that even if we don’t win, we’re going to fight and scratch until the final whistle every time, and anyone who beats us will know they’ve been in a game and will have to earn it.
Men of the match: Mr. Jones and Mr. Beckerman
Germany. Wow. That’s all I have to say about that.
Frankly, I’m a little exhausted and emotionally spent after yesterday, but I am intrigued to see how Belgium does in their first match of the tournament today, as well as Brazil v. Mexico at 3:00 EST. Brazil was more than a little shaky in winning their first match and it was difficult to gauge exactly how well Mexico played in winning against Cameroon, who were really poor. I’m putting my newly bolstered prediction skills on the line though and predicting a 2-0 Brazil win.
Cheers and happy viewing.