NATAL, Brazil — Just when the U.S. seemed headed for a disappointing tie, John Brooks scored a monumental game-winner on an 86th-minute corner-kick header to snatch a huge three points against a Ghana team that had owned the U.S. in the World Cup. The curse is over.
Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:
• John Brooks entered the U.S. history books
In a remarkable finish to a game of wildly swerving emotions, 21-year-old center back John Brooks headed home the game-winner in the 86th minute off a corner kick to give the U.S. a stunning victory over Ghana, the team that had eliminated the Americans from the past two World Cups. The U.S. appeared destined for a 1-1 tie (or worse) when André Ayew culminated a siege of Ghanaian pressure to equalize in the 82nd minute.
But just when the U.S. was on its heels, the Americans won a corner kick. Graham Zusi sent a curling ball into the box where Brooks nodded it hard with his noggin off the turf and in. Soccer is a funny old game sometimes. Brooks was playing in his first official (non-friendly) game ever for the U.S.—he could have still played for Germany until he came in—and only entered the game due to a hamstring injury to starting center back Matt Besler. A grand night indeed for American soccer.
• The U.S. couldn’t have asked for a better start
Dempsey’s stunning opener came just 34 seconds into the game as he took a gorgeous first touch from a Jermaine Jones pass and skinned defender John Boye before burying a left-footed blast far-post past Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. Dempsey became the first American to score in three World Cups, but more than that he gave the U.S. a huge shot of adrenaline to start the game.
The goal was sui generis for the U.S., and yet it was an echo of the early goal that John O’Brien scored against Portugal in the U.S.’s classic 3-2 World Cup opening-game victory in 2002. Never one to shrink from a big moment, Dempsey scored a goal that will remain embedded in the memories of every U.S. soccer fan for its sheer audacity and execution. It doesn’t get much better than that.
• Not everything is rosy heading into Game 2
Jozy Altidore’s hamstring injury looked serious, and the U.S. may have to rely on 23-year-old Aron Jóhannsson up top the rest of the way in the World Cup. As for Besler, he has been the rock of the U.S. back line in recent months, and although his injury looked less severe—U.S. Soccer said his removal was precautionary—it’s a lot to ask of Brooks to be an anchor in the central defense against Portugal and Germany.
Michael Bradley, too, had an uncharacteristically tough game, appearing to measure his passes too much, which led to multiple giveaways. With the U.S. having to go to youngsters like Jóhannsson and Brooks in huge moments, questions will be raised over whether Klinsmann should have left experienced players like Landon Donovan and Clarence Goodson off the World Cup squad.
In the end, though, what matters most is that the U.S. got three key points in its World Cup opener, just the second time the U.S. has won to start the World Cup since 1990. The last time? That was in 2002, when the U.S. went all the way to the quarterfinals. This may be the start of something special.