It could not have started any better. Germany mauled Portugal 4-0 in the first game of the group. Ronaldo looked less than 100% and the Portuguese suffered a red card and two injuries likely to sideline starters from the second group game against the USMNT. It got better :34 seconds into the Ghana game when Clint Dempsey cut inside the box and gave the USMNT a 1-0 lead.
For a moment, it seemed possible that a quantum leap of competence had been made, and that the USMNT could dominate a World Cup game simultaneously serving notice of arrival and bad intentions. It was a few moments later that a time-honored reality set in. The early goal fortuitous, but burdensome given our inability to possess the ball and stretch Ghana to break again.
By the fifteen minute mark, the clock was our only friend. There would be the odd counter resulting in a half chance, and a few set pieces of note, but the pattern of this game was cast in steel. Ghana would attack, and the USMNT would defend sometimes valiantly, often in chaos in hopes of not conceding an equalizer or worse.
Since 1994, we have cycled through five coaches as the game has “grown” in this country, and infinite platitudes about progress. There have been truly amazing moments of National pride with wins over Spain, Brazil and Italy, a quarterfinal appearance against Germany in 2-0, a mastery of CONCACAF in general and Mexico specifically as well as Landon Donavan’s goal against Algeria in 2010.
As tonight’s game wore on with errant passes and panicked clearances, it is inescapable that genuine progress has eluded us. Ghana is a respectable opponent, but like the USMNT not a threat to win the World Cup. This was the precise moment to show technical and tactical development, and we could not string three freaking passes together to relieve their unrelenting assault. Nevermind playing keep away on a steamy night in Natale.
Predictably, we conceded an equalizer and damn near lost the game, but we are the United States and that means something. We pushed up a bit for the first time in 80 minutes, and won a corner. Nothing real impressive, but functional. A strange optimism took root in our minds that this might be our moment….and it was as John Brooks, a 21 year old defender from Germany, headed home the winning goal. He didn’t start the game, and only entered at halftime due to injury. He had some shaky moments prior to the goal, and literally appeared overwhelmed in the aftermath of the goal, but he is a hero and we are winners.
Same ole, same ole.