Is there such a thing as a World Cup rival?
If there is, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s is Saturday’s friendly opponents Ghana, who they have face in each of the past three FIFA World Cups.
After Ghana knocked the USA out of the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups – once in the Group Stage and again in the Round of 16 – the U.S. got its revenge in the two sides’ last meeting when Clint Dempsey scored early and John Brooks late to hand the MNT an unforgettable 2-1 victory in the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
As the U.S. prepares for its first non-World Cup meeting with the Black Stars, ussoccer.com sat down with Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi – two players had a lasting effect on the result – to get their recollections from the iconic World Cup victory.Read more
It was the first game for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It was a matchup with Ghana, the team that had eliminated the USA in the previous two World Cups and the MNT’s first opponent in the “Group of Death.” It was John Brooks, one year ago today, that a headed in a heart-stopping goal in the 86th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 win. A dream scenario for Brooks had become reality.
The game began with a historic strike, when the USA took an immediate 1-0 lead off a Clint Dempsey goal that came 29 seconds into the match. It was the fastest goal in World Cup history for the U.S. and a goal that made Dempsey the first MNT player to score in three World Cups.
The defense stifled a number of attacks from Ghana in the minutes that followed, but in the 82nd, the African nation broke through with an equalizing goal. With eight minutes left, the U.S. pushed ahead, battled for a scoring opportunity and earned corner kick, which set the stage for Brooks.
“I had a dream,” Brooks said in the pandemonium that followed the win. “I told some teammates that I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and we win the game. Now it was the 86th minute, and we won.”
The 21-year-old, playing in his first World Cup game overwhelmed by the moment and the realization of his dream fell to his knees on the pitch as his teammates embraced him.
U.S. MNT head coach JURGEN KLINSMANN
On injuries of Besler and Altidore:
“Personally for me, Matt is no problem, all fine for the next game. But Jozy, we now have to see how he reacts in the next couple of days with his hamstring and we are full of hope that he comes back still in this tournament, and that’s what we are going to work on every day. The medical staff has done a tremendous job. We still have hope that Jozy will come back. How quickly? That is down to his healing process.”
On switching focus to Portugal:
“I think we’ve switched gears already. We kind of came back late last night and let them sleep in and now we are working on starters and the guys who played 45 plus minutes to tuck away from the group that is still going a little bit harder. Our total focus is on Portugal now. Ghana is far away from us already all night. We knew it was very, very important to get those three points. We worked hard for it. It was a very tricky game, as you all saw. But our mind is 100 percent on Portugal from now on, since last night already.”
On Dempsey’s broken nose:
“We are going to call the doctor. I’m the coach – I don’t know things like that. Maybe he has the option of getting a mask on, broken nose or not, I don’t know how much a mask can protect him. Whatever he feels good with. I think that with a broken nose, it was tricky during the game. He could barely breath and he struggled with that, but Dempsey’s nose is broken.”
On focusing on Portugal and not letting the win distract the team:
“It’s always difficult for the coaches to move on from an emotional ending of a game to the next game and always telling your players to stay on the ground, to stay focused, and the next game is even more difficult than the one we just played. That’s what we are all trying to do and hope it works out. So, that’s why we wanted to come back right away after the game here to Sao Paulo, and make it clear that the only thing we talk about is Portugal and that’s what we try to do to our best abilities to see the result in Manaus.”
On traveling home after the win:
“There were a lot of smiles obviously in the locker room, and then the Vice President came in and said ‘Hi,’ as well and that makes everybody proud a little bit. On the plane, it was very quiet. Everybody was tired, and they were all sleeping. We got in after 4 a.m. this morning and so we let them sleep in until lunch time and then off we go from there.
“The trick is now really to be focused on Portugal and their situation, we do all our scouting work and we will have people at the game, we summarize. We only talk now about how we can beat this Portuguese team with all of these amazing players that they have. This is our goal and we believe in it. We believe that we can go to Manaus and beat them. So, we want to get in the next round and it takes that to beat Portugal, then this is what we have to do.”
On what he said to Jozy Altidore as he was being taken off of the field:
“All you do as a coach is give him a positive hug and tell him listen, ‘You’ll be back and stay positive, you’ll be back. Don’t cut if off now.’ And that’s what I told him right away in the locker room as well. I keep him positive, and we have big hope that he’s coming back in this tournament.”
On how the plan of attack will change if Jozy Altidore cannot play:
“I don’t want to go too deep into details because obviously we want Portugal to guess a little bit as well, but you know when one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does. Jozy is a very strong, key player in our group, so we’ll think about the right way to handle that situation. We’ll still field 11, you know, we’re not a man down. We still have somebody coming in and we’ll make it very, very difficult for Portugal in Manaus. We’ll find solutions.”
On Portugal’s loss and if he will talk to Joachim Low:
“I don’t think that I will touch base with Joachim, um about Portugal, even if I know he would tell me whatever he thinks about them. I think we’ve already done our homework and we’re well prepared for Portugal. We watched their entire qualifying campaign; we’ve analyzed all their individual players, like they do about us as well, so that works and then you obviously watched that game against Germany too. We got a lot of information about things that happened there yesterday afternoon, and then you do your own thing. I believe that we are very well prepared with a lot of respect we have for that team. It’s a difficult situation for them now, after that defeat, they are with their backs against the wall. It makes it even more difficult to get a result, but that’s what you want. That’s what a World Cup is about. We also have the chance to win to hopefully qualify. It can’t get any better.”
On how Portugal poses a different challenge than Ghana:
“A goal difference plays an important role, absolutely. And Portugal is definitely a different caliber than Ghana. It’s one of the favorites, actually, for the tournament and has very exceptional players. We are well aware of that, but we are not comparing them to Ghana. Whatever Ghana is, its way back now in our minds and we’ll try to tell every player based on that information on them, but not overdoing it as well. We still have to focus on our game.”
U.S. MNT midfielder ALEJANDRO BEDOYA
On the team’s consciousness of the standings:
“Personally, for me, the win and three points was huge. But, does it go through our minds? I don’t think so. Portugal is going to be a tough game. It’s football, anything can happen. Based on past World Cups, sometimes four points isn’t even enough so I don’t think we’ve gone that far to think that if we get a draw, we are safe in the group. I think we are trying to go out against Portugal and win that game, and then we don’t have to think about anything."
On the amount of talk about Portugal among the team members:
“We watched the Germany game. For me personally, I didn’t watch much of it, I was taking a nap like I normally do for my game day ritual, but I know some of the guys were watching it. We have not yet started discussing tactically how we are going to play against Portugal or anything like that, but that will come in the next few days I’m sure."
On whether or not he has an injury:
“I had a little hip pointer in the first half. It’s an injury that I’ve had before, so it was bothering me a lot, but I just cramped up as well in my hamstring when I tried to block that last cross right before I came off. So, it was a little bit of both things, but I should be alright."
On putting the emotional high of the Ghana game behind to focus on Portugal:
“I use it as motivation, really. That feeling last night was amazing, I’m sure the fans felt it and you guys felt it too. On the bench, when [Ghana] scored, the [reaction] was just a gasp of air, but to get that goal, and I was hurting a bit so I couldn’t even make it over to the corner flag to celebrate. You got to soak it all in, right? Last night we were enjoying ourselves and everything, now we’ve got to recuperate. Our bodies are banged up a bit and now we put all of our focus on Portugal and I think we will be able to do that. This is the World Cup, it is about having a little bit of fun as well, you know?"
On getting away from the stress of training and having some fun:
“We had one afternoon where we just had a chance to go around and walk a little bit, freshen up our legs. I think the cool thing is also having our family and friends here, some of them are coming along for the ride and [we are] sharing this experience with them. In Natal, we were able to spend some time with them. We can go to their hotel, they can come to our hotel and that is very important, because mentally, you can’t just be focused the whole time, you need some time to wind down.”
On the back line, and how it will work out going forward:
“Yeah, I mean, we all believe in each other. We all deserve to be here, we’ve earned that right to play here. I think all these players have showed throughout training camp and Stanford that they’re more than capable of handling different things. We have size, strength, speed back there as well. Not just the defenders, but if you look on to the midfielders the way they tend to do things, we’re all the type of players that are going to do that: tracking back and help our defenders. So we have a good group, and everybody’s strong.”
On what Jurgen said after the game about moving on from Ghana to the next games:
“One of the first things he said was like, ‘Whew! Well we won this one, and we have a lot of things to work on.’ So I think we learned a lot of things in that game. We came out with the victory, and that’s the most important thing, to get a result. But at the end of the day, I think we’re going to go back, study the video, and work on things we need to improve on. There’s certain things that we can do a lot better.”
On what specifically needs to be better:
“I think our defensive shape looked good at times, that part was not the biggest concern. But obviously keeping the ball, and being a little bit more calm and confident in keeping the ball and possession, and just keep it down. It’s a little funny, you know, that the way you think about—like the fact that we scored so early on, it’s obviously a great way to get things started, but at the same time it kind of messes up the game plan because you kind of have a natural tendency when you’re up a goal to kind of go, ‘Alright, you’re up one-nil, let’s try to protect this lead.’ And it sort of messes up how we wanted to keep the pressure up, [keep] intensity and high tempo up. It sounds weird and funny to say that, you know, that it affected that. But it’s definitely something we need to work on offensively, you know, to combine better and get in better positions.”
On whether he and the team are paying attention to fan reactions:
“Yeah definitely. The fans were fantastic, not only back in the states, but in the stadium. You know, you could feel that it was almost a pro-American crowd, it felt like at times. The American fans were buzzing there. I woke up today this morning and looked on Instagram and Twitter and saw the posts and videos of people reacting at bars, pubs and out in Chicago at the event they had there. It’s just awesome. I feed off of it, it’s awesome that we’re part of this movement of growing soccer in the States. So it’s really cool, and I’m sure everybody feeds off this energy and it’s really good to see.”
U.S. MNT midfielder Graham Zusi
On what needs to improve for the next game:
"For as good as it was to get that early goal, a lot of times that’s the case, if a team scores first minute, a lot of times it puts them on the back foot. I think we need to play a little bit of a field possession game, or steal some of the field at times, if we try so much to play out of our back, I think at times we can put the ball on their end and go up and pressure them as well. I think that we can improve on, but also just protecting the ball more. I think we give it away a bit too easily. A lot of times that’s what it’s like in the first game in a tournament like this. A lot of times not the greatest game out there, but we did the job and we got the result we needed to move ahead."
On guys playing their first World Cup if it just becomes like another game now:
"It was just an incredible feeling. The support we had from the fans in the stadium along with the fans in every corner of the country – we felt that. It was obviously a U.S. crowd last night, and it just makes me want more of it. It was such an exciting game and exciting feeling for me. I think those initial nerves just for you to do well are out there and out of your body, but I think you need that as well, a little bit of nerves inside of you is a good thing in the sport."
On Matt Besler:
"I don’t think Matt’s injuries are all too bad. I think that was more of a precautionary thing to keep him out of the second half. I fully expect him to be back with the guys tomorrow."
On the back line:
"I thought they did extremely well. With the unexpected changes, I think all the guys did very well together. I thought [Geoff Cameron] was an absolute monster back there for us. He found himself in some great spots to clear some really dangerous balls. [Matt Besler], while he was in there, was solid as ever. Brooks, he came in and obviously did his part as well and got the eventual game-winner. The outside guys [DaMarcus Beasley] and [Fabian Johnson] were their old selves, getting up and down the line, dangerous as ever."
On Jozy not playing and changing how approach Portugal:
"I think we have guys who can fill in that spot. Our depth was tested yesterday, and it proved to be very good for us, and I think we have guys who can fill in that spot and do the same job that Jozy can."
Overall thoughts on the match:
JK: “First of all a big congratulations to the team for going through a very difficult game, which we expected. We knew it was going to be a grind coming down to the wire against a very strong Ghana side. I was still convinced we were going to win this game even after they got the equalizer. I had the feeling that another two or three chances would come and we would need just one of those opportunities which then happened. This is definitely the result that we wanted. The players worked hard for it and its just a good feeling to have the first three points.
On whether he saw anything from Ghana defensively that gave him the feeling that the U.S. would get a few last chances:
JK: “No I think it was all over the field. It was a very dynamic game, but I saw opportunities always coming in transition. And obviously when a chance comes from a set piece, we feel a little more hope because we are very good between those things and the players are determined to go into those. It’s a big moment for John Anthony Brooks, it’s a special moment for the boy. He did well. For us it’s hard to swallow the first pill with Jozy coming off the field because he is very important to us. Then at half time with the soreness Matt Besler had, we decided not to risk it and have a second player maybe going out then. So we were precautious and took Matt out and John came in and played his first World Cup game.
On John Brooks maturation as a player:
JK: “It’s normal that when young players come through and have their first big opportunities that everyone is curious to see how far those players are already. We could see in every training session and we could see with his club as well that he’s a very good talent coming through the ranks. It was no problem for me at all [to bring Brooks into the game]. We could have stayed with Matt and if the soreness goes away you’re going to be all fine, but we have players coming in from the bench, they know exactly what to do, they know their roles and it will happen more often in this world cup that we’ll need the entire bench.
“The players know that and they’ll have to be ready. We warm them up before the game just like we warm up the starters. We need to have them coming if an injury happens after five minutes or after 45 minutes. I think John showed his talent. There’s still opportunity for him to learn and to grow and what better stage to do that than the World Cup.”
On if Brooks has move up the depth chart past Omar Gonzalez:
JK: “No, it’s really position based. John is the left center back and Omar is the right, so if something would have happened to Cameron it would have been Omar. This is how we train. We put so much work into our last four weeks in that specific position that we don’t want to now mess things up. We will move forward with john filling that roll and for the right center back roll we have Omar as cover.”
On potentially being without Altidore, Besler and Dempsey due to different injuries:
JK: “We have to deal with it. We feel really sorry for Jozy and hope that it’s not that bad and that we are going to get him back as quick as possible. With Matt it’s no problem. I think we made the right decision. We held him out of the game so he didn’t get any injury, so he’s all fine. Now Clint has to work with his nose. It will hurt him for a couple of days. I broke mine three or four times; it’s alright. We’ll give him a few days. But it will continue to happen to all teams, injuries, problems, issues. That’s why you have a roster of 23 players and they have to understand exactly their role no matter when they have to come on the field. So we have to prepare for Portugal and we will be very strong there as well.”
On how he managed the game through the injuries and tactically when Ghana controlled portions of the match:
JK: “Overall I think it was the right move to go into a four flat midfield line with Clint right in front of them and in from of him have Jozy. That worked out well because Kyle had to cover for the center backs. Nothing really was created by Ghana coming through the middle. They were really more dangerous coming over the wings. That’s where their goal came through a beautiful play that they did. Overall, I think the compactness was there. They got some things over some sort of crosses just really made it inside not to a specific target; that looked good.”
On the moment when Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the match:
JK: “Well the whole bench was jumping around. It’s a very special moment in the opening game for each team in the World Cup and to score inside of a minute, I think there can’t be anything better than that. Overall though, we sat back a little too much instead of taking the game to them. We let them come and reacted to them. A similar thing happened to us in Jamaica; we scored two after two or three minutes and suddenly the team dropped and I was screaming on the sideline like crazy to keep the line high and take control of the game and keep control of the ball, which we had problems with.
“[Against Ghana] we had problems just to control it and connect passes. It was maybe because of that first goal because we were up suddenly and we’re thinking we have to defend, but no, go for the second one, get control of the game. Ghana had to push it, they had to come [forward] and they did that well with very good players as you saw tonight.”
On what convinced him that Brooks was ready to be a part of the USA’s World Cup squad:
JK: “We coaches all over the place, we always try to read players coming through the youth system and breaking into the leagues wherever they play and we try to figure out how this player can be developed over time. With John we saw really early that his passing is amazing, he’s calm for his age, obviously he’s very strong in the air because he’s so tall he has confidence. He rarely commits fouls. His positioning is to get in front of strikers. This is what we need, so now we have to figure out is he ready for a World Cup already, or does it take another year or two in his development?
“We had the feeling after I talked with the coach at his club and the sporting director there that he’s ready for us. They expected more from him last season. He got a little bit of a lesson from his coach, which is part of growing as well. But, he had time now for more than a month in each training session to teach himself every element of the game and showed that he’s willing to take that on and learn it quickly. He obviously learned it quickly and now we just have to keep him consistent with his performance today.”
On the final moment of the game when Brooks scored:
JK: “It was a very enjoyable moment when his goal came, but also over the whole 90 minutes it showed us a lot of areas where we have to be better for our second game going into Manaus later against Portugal. We gave too much of the game to Ghana, so we will take all those pieces that we went through together and analyze them and show them to players and step it up another edge now going into Manaus.
“But, when a goal like this happens pretty late now you think we can get there. In terms of this one game you see the bench jumping up full of joy and full of excitement and a lot of fans at home were going crazy in front of the TV. Then we play five minutes of stoppage time and I wondered where these minutes come from. In the first half it was understandable with the injuries to Jozy and to Clint; second half I didn’t, but you have to grind it out. It was fun.”
On if he has seen the Germany performance against Portugal and how dangerous the U.S. can be for so called “big teams”:
JK: “We watched the Germany game and that’s a huge monumental start to the tournament [for them]. It was impressive.
“[For us] it’s a great start, a very difficult start against a great Ghana team and now we have to work harder to show Portugal who we are. This is a very dangerous game, more dangerous than before because you get that 4-0 result from Germany, now you’re going to come into Manaus pretty angry. I don’t know how Cristiano Ronaldo behaves when he’s angry, but we expect a very difficult game. We are looking forward to it. These are the moments. It’s been three years we’ve been working toward these moments, now it’s there. Some of the players couldn’t believe it before the game started that it’s there, so it’s pretty exciting for us, but we need to step it up even more to get a result against Portugal and to get a result against Germany, but we have a lot of confidence and a lot of energy for what we need to do.”On if the U.S. makes it out of the group stage, would he prefer to see Ghana also advance:
JK: “Well it’s going to be difficult with that 4-0 from Germany today. I think from the beginning on, Germany is the favorite in this group and now Ghana must get a result against Germany and get a result against Portugal as well otherwise it’s going to be wide open. Now it’s a grind, one game after the other. I think Ghana had a good game tonight. We had the last piece in it with that set; we are pretty happy about it, but everything is still out there to play for. Read more