In a lot of ways, the United States’ first day of World Cup action could not have gone better.
The European power with which they expect to fight for their group’s second qualifying spot drew no blood in a shameful performance against Germany. Portugal lost 4-0, saw their best defender red carded – triggering an automatic suspension that won’t let him near the pitch for the nation’s game against the U.S. – and lost two other starters to injury.
Then, in their own game, after seeing the lead they held for 81 minutes erased by a Ghanaian equalizer, substitute John Brooks came to the rescue, and scored in the 86th to secure an exciting, important win – suddenly turning hopeful a bleak pre-tournament outlook.
They were the proud owner of three points, tied atop the group with the Germans, and little more than one good game away from securing a spot in the round-of-16 no one thought could be theirs.
It was more than they could have dreamed of.
But, in too many other ways, the United States’ first day of World Cup action was terrifying.
The team’s only real, pure striker, Jozy Altidore, pulled up lame with a bad hamstring in the game’s first half, forcing an early substitution and throwing the fan-favorite’s immediate future into a state of injured flux.
More significantly, though – for this U.S. observer who doesn’t quite see the dynamism in Alitodre’s game – the Americans, in this match up with Ghana, showed startling deficits in both skill and strategy that would have spelled their doom against a better side.
After a burst of class by Clint Dempsey in the math’s opening minute, the American game returned to that which you might expect from a side still struggling to win over their own manager. The passing of the entire starting XI was consistently poor, with first touches that were, somehow, worse that that. Unable to connect with one another throughout the game, the Americans looked awkward and disjointed – unsure of what to do the ball when they had it, and unqualified to do what they wanted to when they finally decided. The squad, as a result, failed to carry the game’s play in any way. Turnovers became common, and the match became one tilted toward the American goal – with Ghana boasting nearly 60% of the game’s possession, drawing twice as many corner kicks, and out-shooting the Americans 21 to eight.
With coach Jurgen Klinsmann, it seemed, frighteningly eager to accept that style of play.
Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute of action on Monday night. Following that goal, rather than pressing the Ghanaians and forcing further onto their heels a team who’d just conceded the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history – putting the onus on Michael Bradley to get possession and Clint Dempsey to help the midfielder keep it – Klinsmann, perhaps bowing to Altidore’s injury, took his team’s foot off the gas pedal and ceded the ball to Ghana.
Choosing to put their fate, instead, in the hands of a defensive back-four featuring at least one player who makes his natural home in the mid-field, and whom most would optimistically deem “questionable.”
For 89 minutes they U.S. played this way, with no attempt to stem the tide when Ghana became more and more threatening as the game wore on.
The equalizing goal then, given the U.S.’s inability to sustain any sort of possession and their exploitable weaknesses at the back, was only a surprise, it seemed, to Klinsmann.
Luckily for him, John Brooks came to the rescue and sent American fans home happy, but the German’s refusal to change tactics and try to keep Ghana away from his net nearly cost his side the game.
And would have against a more skilled team. Portugal – weakened though they may be – would have been well clear of the Americans on Monday. And a German blitzkrieg would have reduced them to rubble in very, very short order.
Yes, the Americans won on Monday. Yes, they currently sit, with Germany, atop their group. Yes, at least mathematically, the day could not have gone better for Land of the Free.
But yes, they also looked unskilled. And yes, they looked out-gunned tactically.
Yes, their inability to pass and control the ball was alarming. And yes, their coach exposed his team’s greatest weakness and invited his rival to exploit it. And yes, that’s horrifying.
And it should be. What the United States showed on the pitch on Monday, as everything else fell in their favor, was not good enough to make a significant run in this World Cup.
It isn’t good enough, really, for anything but a tremendous let down – two embarrassing losses to their aforementioned, forthcoming European foes to let slip away all that has been put within their reach.
Author: Joe Bianchino
Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at Joe@noticketsports.com.