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Monday, June 16, 2014

Ecstasy for America: USA vs Ghana Recap

The US captured a vital three points today against Ghana as John Anthony Brooks picked up a late headed goal to win after the Andre Ayew's equalizer. The American play was not exactly pretty, as the team spent much of the eighty minutes between Clint Dempsey's early opener and the Ghanaian goal desperately defending with tired legs and players going down with injuries left and right. Matt Besler and perhaps more significantly Jozy Altidore both left with hamstring issues by halftime, with Altidore's looking the more severe. Dempsey also suffered a likely broken nose after being kicked in the face in the first half.

As fate would have it, however, it was Besler's substitute replacement, Hertha Berlin center-back Brooks who would steal the game for the Outlaws. He climbed high above the Black Stars defense to nod in the winning goal as Norwegian-born Ghana goalie Adam Kwarasey failed to make the stop. It was an exhilarating, emotional, and joyous moment, and one that means so much not only for the USA's chances of advancing in this tournament but for the growth of the game as whole in the country.

In truth, this game and manner of victory could not have come at a more perfect time for soccer in the US. Interest in the sport has been increasing steadily over the past decade thanks to a variety of factors, and with millions watching this match (thanks in part to a rip-roaring start to the tournament already), many more fans were undoubtedly made in the space of two hours. The sport got its "SportsCenter moment" tonight, much akin to Landon Donovan's stoppage-time winner against Algeria in 2010, one that will be the leading story on sporting websites and programs throughout the nation for at least one night. Though the game has been increasing in popularity already in the states due in part to more accessibility to European matches on television and online, the growing quality of the MLS, social media, and the growing sales numbers of the FIFA video game franchise, it's games like this one that can really win people over.

So what does this result mean for the American squad's hopes in this world cup? In a word, everything. A loss or even a draw against this Ghana team would have made it incredibly difficult for the US to advance past their group, needing results against both Portugal and Germany, with at least one win. But now, in conjunction with Germany's 4-0 battering of the Portuguese earlier this afternoon, the US would likely move on with just a point against Portugal, a strong possibility if today's performance is anything to judge by. Assuming Germany beats Ghana, a tie vs. Portugal would leave the US three points above third place in the group with a huge lead in goal differential. Plus, Germany would have already clinched advancement, and could possibly rest some stars for their matchup against the United States.

All in all, today was an amazing day for the USA. An exciting victory in a crucial match combined with a favorable result elsewhere means that surviving the dreaded Group of Death is more than a possibility now, and maybe even a likelihood. The US plays Portugal this Sunday in a can't-miss game at six o'clock EST. Here's hoping Jurgen Klinsmann and his men can keep their winning streak alive.

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