U.S. Soccer

O What A Night


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NATAL, Brazil – This time, Clint Dempsey didn't dance. It wasn't time for that. Not even close.

In fact, the U.S. captain's goal after exactly 30 seconds against Ghana turned out to be just the opening salvo in a wild, unpredictable, and intense 2-1 U.S. victory that simultaneously set records, vanquished past demons, and recalled legendary moments from the nation's soccer past.

  • Still Surreal: The shock of scoring against Ghana has not worn off for John Brooks

John Brooks, on as a halftime substitute after Matt Besler was removed from the game with hamstring tightness, bookended the madness with an 86th minute winner. Brooks' celebration started with pure jubilation and genuine shock, until the moment overtook the 21-year-old and he sank face-down to the turf, his hands over his head, teammates surrounding him in a joyous pile. It was the first goal scored by a substitute in the United States’ Word Cup history.

“I thanked God for the great moment,” Brooks said. “I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and we won the game. It’s unbelievable.”

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Brooks might have been the only one in the stadium to have seen his goal coming – even if many of them were U.S. fans. The noise in Natal’s Arena das Dunas continually soared throughout the evening, growing from a respectable din when players entered the field for warm-ups, to a powerful, robust bravado in the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, to outright delirium in the aftermath of Brooks’ goal. Not since 2006, when the U.S. met Italy in Kaiserslautern, Germany, near an American armed forces base had they enjoyed this kind of an advantage in the stands.

They didn’t have to wait long to have something to cheer for. Dempsey’s goal came in a flash, with the U.S. captain receiving the ball on the edge of the box off service from Jermaine Jones. Dempsey skimmed past Ghana defender John Boye, found himself all alone in the box, and clipped a far-post strike that bounced its way past the outstretched arms of Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, pinged off the post, and just like that the fastest goal in the U.S.’s World Cup history (and 5th-fastest ever in a FIFA World Cup) settled itself over the line and the U.S. went up 1-0.

“If you score after a minute, you think you can’t have anything better than that,” Jurgen Klinsmann said after the game. “But maybe overall it wasn’t so good to us because then we kind of sat back a little too much instead of taking the game to them.”

Dempsey knew all about this. In 2006, the Texan made his first major mark on the international stage with an opening goal against Ghana in a World Cup. This one came in the 43rd minute of the teams’ final group stage game. Then, as he did on Monday, Dempsey pointed to the sky with both fingers, pumped his fists, screamed and yelled for the world to hear as he sprinted toward the left corner flag.

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In 2006, Dempsey stopped there, and danced a jig. Ghana came back and won that day, contributing to the U.S.’s elimination for the first of what would eventually be two consecutive World Cups.

On Monday, Dempsey stopped, turned around, and got back to business. There ended up being a lot of it to take care of.

After a month’s worth of training sessions and three warm-up games, the United States faced their first big injury challenge on the world’s biggest stage. Jozy Altidore, Dempsey’s partner up top, was doing nothing out of the ordinary when chasing down a Michael Bradley long ball in the 23rd minute. All the same, the forward pulled up under almost no duress, falling to the ground and clutching his left hamstring. As was immediately apparent, Altidore had to be substituted, with Aron Jóhannsson coming on in his place.

“My heart goes out to him,” Dempsey said. “You could see the tears in his eyes going back to the locker room, so we wish him a speedy recovery. He’s a big player for us, and it hurts to have him go out of the game.”

There would be more physical obstacles to overcome, but the next few came from the Ghanaians. Mohammed Rabiu hit World Cup debutant Kyle Beckerman in the face with a flying arm, and received a yellow card. Jones and Sulley Muntari became entangled after a pair of rough challenges.

Then, in a bizarre and more painful twist, Dempsey suffered a fractured nose thanks to the flailing leg of Boye. Upon landing, Dempsey firmly pinched his now-bloodied bridge and adjusted it back into place. Refusing a stretcher, U.S. trainers tended to him as he walked toward the sideline. One minute and a few tissues later, Dempsey returned to the field – a moment straight from the book of former U.S. striker Brian McBride, who scored key goals throughout the U.S.’s 2002 World Cup run and left no shortage of U.S. games with a variety of facial injuries. 

“I was coughing up blood a little bit, but I felt fine,” Dempsey said. “I went on as well as I could, I just had trouble breathing.”

In the second half, things became even more difficult. Matt Besler left the game with tightness in his hamstring, with Brooks replacing him. The U.S. appeared discombobulated in the final third, and Ghana’s attacks became more and more frequent.

“I was screaming at them on the sideline like crazy to keep the line high,” Klinsmann said. “We had problems controlling it and getting passes connected.”

In the 82nd minute, Ghana’s pressure resulted in an equalizer, with Andre Ayew finishing off a nifty backheel by Asamoah Gyan. Then the United States went back to work.

“The response after they got to 1-1 was really positive,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Body language, everything was exactly what you want.”

On a day when the U.S. traded blows with Ghana in a physical back-and-forth, it was fitting two of the team's pairs of fresh legs would connect on the winner. Graham Zusi's lofted corner kick hung in the air just as long as it needed to, and the six-foot-four Brooks met it with assurance, headed it downwards and placed it right where Kwarasey couldn't get to it.

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The U.S. celebrated wildly in the stands and on the field, before seeing out the remaining minutes without further incident. After the whistle, the players thanked the boisterous fan contingent who had traveled to Natal and headed back to the locker room where they were greeted by Jozy Altidore, injured in the first half, with a limp and a hug. Shortly thereafter the team was treated to a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, who passed on his congratulations and reiterated the support of the nation for the squad competing at the tournament in Brazil.

“Another win in dramatic fashion, huh?” Altidore quipped to reporters after the match.

Indeed.


Player Quotes: 2016 U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team

Midfielder and co-captain Carli Lloyd

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team:
Even though this is my third Olympics, each and every time it’s very special and humbling to be part of an Olympic Team. It’s special to represent U.S. Soccer, our country and Team USA, and it’s always a dream come true. This is another challenge that awaits us. No team has won a World Cup and then won an Olympics. We want to come home with a gold medal, so being able to thrive under the challenge is great. It won’t be easy and we’re going to have to be ready for it.” 

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“Every tournament that I’ve been a part of has been different. We were there without Abby in 2008; in 2012 we were coming off the 2011 World Cup which we did not win, and now we are here in 2016 and we have a lot of young players. They have sparked the energy and have brought talent, but this is also mixed with us veteran players. We know what to expect and what is needed to win the gold medal. We know it’s different. We can help the younger players deal with that. We may also come out and lose our first game, and we have to realize that it is okay and we can keep moving forward and still win. Nothing worthwhile in life is gone through without challenges. This team will be able to handle it and lean on each other.” 

Defender and co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn

On making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“Any time you get to represent the United States is a tremendous honor. I'm thrilled to be going to my second Olympic Games. It is a truly unique experience being a part of Team USA with all these athletes competing in all these different disciplines. There's a real sense of camaraderie and being a part of something bigger than just your team. In that sense it's quite different from the World Cup where the spotlight and pressure rest solely on our team.”

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“We have a lot of new faces on the roster compared to just a year ago. It's been a quick turnaround, but the young players have done such an amazing and professional job working in to our system while adding their own flair to our team DNA. We're attempting to evolve our style of play, and the new players have been instrumental in helping us get to a new level. It's a wonderful mix of experience and youth, and the team has a great energy at camps.”

Goalkeeper Hope Solo

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team:
“Jill called and told me that I made the team and said ‘I know this is a formality,’ but every official Olympic roster means a great deal to me. It’s a hard roster to make, with less players, and it's a tough tournament, a lot of games in a short amount of time. You never know if you are going to be able to stay healthy all the way leading into when the roster is named. There are a lot factors that go into making it, and it means a great deal for every player. I’m excited to navigate our way through and see all that Brazil has to offer."

On how this is different from last year and the Women’s World Cup:
“It's a smaller roster than last year’s World Cup team and it's a much different mix of players. The task ahead of us is going to be challenging. By no means is this tournament going to be easy, not with all of the challenges we will face from our great opponents and also from the country itself. I believe in our young players’ skill. We all believe in their ability, but the fun part for me is that they will also have the opportunity to show the world more than skill alone. They will have to show the mental strength that it takes to rise to the occasion of an Olympic tournament."

Forward Mallory Pugh

On making her first Olympic Team:
“I’m super excited and nervous at the same time. When [Jill Ellis] called, a bunch of emotions were going through my mind. I was a bit in shock because I know I’ve worked hard and it’s because of my teammates on the National Team, on the U-20s and back at home that have pushed me. I appreciate that from them. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without them. I thought, ‘did that really just happen? Am I going to go to the Olympics?’ I will not only be with amazing athletes on my team, but also on Team USA. It will be so cool to see so many different athletes, find out their journeys and be inspired by them.”

Midfielder Allie Long

On making her first U.S. Olympic Team:
“As soon as Jill said congrats, I was so grateful and thankful. I tried not to cry, but when we hung up the phone I did; only happy tears. It was such a cool moment. People had told me this was impossible. The team had just won the World Cup, it was hard that they would change the team and I came in so late, but it happened. I think it’s one of the most humbling and special experiences. This is my first big tournament, but I know what it means to represent your country. I watched the last Olympic Games and I know how cool it is and what it takes to win. You represent everyone in the U.S. and everyone is watching. It’s so special. I’m focusing on being my best, both physically and mentally. I think when I’m there it will hit me, but this is unbelievable and I’m so happy.”

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe

On coming back from ACL surgery last December and making the Olympic roster:
“This is really special to me. There was a big part of me that didn’t know if this was possible, so that was a very realistic outcome to this. It’s very surreal, mostly because I have a lot of work to do now, and where I am at now is not where I am going to be in a few weeks. Going to the Olympics and representing your country is incredible, but this one is that much better. After everything I went through and the uncertainty, this one is very special.”

Defender Whitney Engen

On making her first U.S. Olympic team:
“It has been kind of a crazy year for me, so to have been picked is a huge honor. Winning the World Cup last year was amazing, but then the process started again and I’m happy that the hard work has paid off.”

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“There is a good mix of youth and older players, but every person has been in a big stage in the same capacity. It’s not the same level as a World Cup or the Olympics, but every person knows how to win and likes to win. We have a lot of first-timers, but we’ve all won before. That gives us the confidence going into Brazil.”

Midfielder Lindsey Horan

On making her first U.S. Olympic Team:
“It’s such an unreal feeling. It hasn’t settled in. I’m grateful and thankful to get this opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics. It’s a special feeling knowing you represent your country and have all of these amazing athletes around you, and we are all at the end of the day in one big team.”

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher

On making her first Olympic Team:
“It’s very exciting. I was sitting in my apartment ready to go explore Chicago with my parents, so receiving that phone call from Jill sure made the day a bit better. This is a huge honor. You dream of going to the Olympics and competing there. The Women’s World Cup is the biggest stage for soccer, but the Olympics there is just something special about joining Team USA and the history behind the Olympic Games. It’s incredible, and being part of it is very special.” 

Midfielder Morgan Brian

On making her first Olympic Team:
“Making the Olympic team is a life-long dream. It's always an amazing feeling fulfilling a dream and one we have all worked incredibly hard for. We want to bring back the gold medal and do something no other team has done before, all while representing the Red, White and Blue.”

Defender Kelley O’Hara

On making the U.S. Olympic Team:
I don’t think it will ever get old or less stressful when it comes to making a roster because this team is so deep and so many people can make it. Can it be a dream come true if it’s your second Olympics? I say yes because it’s special to go to another one. Not a lot of people are two-time Olympians. I’m honored to be on this team and represent the USA.”

On how the Olympics differs from a World Cup:
“The World Cup is solely football, but at the Olympics you are part of Team USA, this bigger picture and these amazing athletes that are coming together and pulling for each other. You’re not only part of just U.S. Soccer, but also of Team USA and that’s very cool.”

Defender Julie Johnston:

On Making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“I feel anytime you can represent the country it’s an amazing honor. Coming off the World Cup win, it was such a great journey. Right after that win I just wanted more, and to have another opportunity to play with this team in a big tournament. Rio was the next stop and this whole process always makes me fall in love with the sport over and over again.”

Defender Meghan Klingenberg:

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after being an alternate in 2012:
“When Jill called me that’s what she said, ‘this call is a bit different than 4 years ago,’ and it was one of the best things. I was happy and proud in 2012 as alternate but I wanted to be on the team and win a medal with my teammates and win a medal for the USA. So to be able to go to Brazil is special and now that I’m going I’m humbled and honored to represent it with this group of people. We have a great team with incredible people.”

Defender Ali Krieger:

On making the U.S. Olympic Team after having an ACL injury keep her out four years ago:
“I’m so excited to make the team. After three tries, it’s finally happened. I was an alternate in 2008, and then not being able to go in 2012, but now it’s my first time going to the Olympics so I’ve waited for this my entire life and I’ve trained for it my entire life. We are playing for a bigger Team USA. It’s inspiring to see so many athletes be a part of this. There’s extra motivation and extra support. It’s bigger than just ourselves. This focuses on everything. It’s so cool. Not many people get to go to the Olympics and being part of this group that does go is unbelievable. I’m so happy and excited. You play to be able to compete at the highest level and you dream of this when you’re young. Making it a reality is amazing”

Forward Alex Morgan:

On Making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“Just to be able to continue on this journey with this team is incredible. Even though the players have changed over the last year especially, the heart of this team always stays the same. For big tournaments this team always performs well and shows up for big moments so I’m excited to continue this and help the younger players as we move close to Rio.”
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WNT Jul 12, 2016
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