The good and bad of the U.S. win over Ghana

Three points.

That’s all the U.S. wanted to get out of last night’s game against Ghana in its World Cup opener.

That’s what the red, white and blue got in a 2-1 win.

It doesn’t matter that the U.S. was outplayed for 93 ½ of the 95 minutes and ceded 60 percent of the possession to Ghana.

The U.S. made the two plays it needed to make – Clint Dempsey’s brilliant opening goal within the first minute and John Brooks’ powerful header in the 86th – to beat the team that had knocked them out of the two previous World Cups.

One more point against Portugal on Sunday  will likely secure passage into the knockout stages of the tournament.

Here’s a look back at the game:

More of the good

Juergen Klinsmann’s super subs

Brooks came on at halftime to replace defender Matt Besler, who suffered a strained hamstring in the first half. Graham Zusi came on to replace a worn-out Alejandro Bedoya, who worked tirelessly to keep Ghana at bay.

After right back Fabian Johnson – in a brilliant play — forced a corner by kicking the ball of a Ghanaian defender who was trying to let the ball roll out for a goal kick, Zusi gave a perfect delivery on the ensuing corner that Brooks slammed into the turf and into the goal, touching off celebrations around the country.

Klinsmann had other options at either position, but the two players he chose made the difference. The first, Aaron Johannsson, didn’t play as well, but was also forced onto the field with little notice after Jozy Altidore left with with is presumed to be a pulled hamstring.

Dempsey’s imagination

I’ve long argued that Clint Dempsey, not Landon Donovan, was the most important player for the U.S. because he has the courage to try stuff on the pitch.

Last night’s opening goal was a perfect example.

He showed a deft touch by playing a simple pass from Jermaine Jones between his legs and then pushing it forward with his heel. He beat one defender, cut inside another and hit a shot off the post and into the goal.

That creative instinct is one of the things that separates the top teams in the world from the U.S. right now.

Jermaine Jones

When you  talk about what-if scenarios with the U.S., one of the first topics usually brought up is “What if Jermaine Jones gets a card?”

Jones, a defensive-minded midfielder, has a reputation has a tough guy with a quick temper.

Well, he was the man of the match for the U.S. last night. He and Kyle Beckerman mostly shut down the middle of the field and Jones did so under control. He was called for three fouls but also caused three fouls. He won six of his eight aerial duels, an important stat considering the U.S. let Ghana smack cross after cross. He wasn’t always tidy in possession, but his pass sprung Dempsey and he didn’t hesitate to get up the field.

Some of the bad

Michael Bradley

There were two players everyone said had to play well for the U.S. to defeat Ghana.

One was goalkeeper Tim Howard, who only let in one of Ghana’s 21 shots.

The other was Bradley, a central midfielder who had arguably his worst game ever in a U.S. kit.

He was mostly absent on defense and his passes, even the low-percentage ones, were rarely on the mark. Several chances at counter-attacks were squandered because of his giveaways.

He must clean up the mistakes for the U.S. to have a chance to earn the necessary point against Portugal or Ghana.

The diamond

The diamond formation, which features four defenders, a holding midfielder just in front of the back line, two wide midfielders, and a midfielder that plays just behind two forwards, didn’t do everything it is supposed to do against Ghana.

The diamond is supposed to help a team clog the middle on defense – which it did – but it is also supposed to help a team control possession on offense  — which it didn’t do. It didn’t help that Bradley played as if his left shoe was on his right foot for most of the night with constant giveaways.

Last night may be the last time the formation is used.

Because the U.S. doesn’t a player with the same skills as Altidore, and because Portugal and Germany feature target forwards who are very good in the air, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Klinsmann scrap the diamond and go with a flatter 4-5-1.

It’s not a very offensive-minded formation, but it may be necessary.

Offensively, the 4-5-1 will leave Dempsey as a lone forward, a position he’s not very good at. But defensively it will help close down the wide areas of the field that Ghana exploited time and time again with crosses into the penalty box.

Portugal, which needs goals in bunches, will no doubt try to do the same thing in an attempt to either score or draw penalties. Germany, which didn’t even play a true forward in its 4-0 demolition of Portugal earlier Monday, will likely do the same.

Plus, it will put more bodies between Cristiano Ronaldo and the goal, which is never a bad thing.

3 comments Add your comment

PantherWin

June 17th, 2014
9:13 am

Bradley was woeful! Single biggest reason we couldn’t keep the ball most of the game. We have to play better to have a chance on Sunday. Portugal with a key starter out and a beat up Ronaldo is still better than us. Altidore was a huge loss and we missed his hold up play.

PaulinNH

June 17th, 2014
12:27 pm

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Klinsmann scrap the diamond and go with a flatter 4-5-1.”

Considering the US spent all of the 2nd half in a 4-5-1 (or did you think that Bradley being behind Beckerman was an accident), this is a pretty good bet.

PaulinNH

June 17th, 2014
12:31 pm

“One more point from games against Portugal on Sunday or Germany in the group finale will likely secure passage into the knockout stages of the tournament..”

Portugal would go through with a win over the US and one over Ghana. If the US ties Portugal they are in the driver’s seat – the US would have to lose to Germany and Portugal would have to beat Ghana by possibly 4 goals.