Monday was an emotional roller coaster ride. The US men’s national team win over Ghana had more ups and downs than is probably healthy.
We barely had time to sit down and watch the action before Captain Deuce dropped a bomb on us. Then Jozy went down, clutching his hamstring. Boots to the face followed, as did an hour of gut wrenching and nail-biting as the US seemingly allowed Ghana to shoot at will. When André Ayew scored in the 84th minute, it seemed like the inevitable had happened. But substitute John Anthony Brooks — a man few had expected or wanted to make the roster just weeks before — nodded home a goal that will forever be etched into our memories. Six minutes of added time and more nail biting later, we survived. Somehow with three points.
But after the euphoria ended, a weird narrative seemed to sweep over the national media coverage: the US are a bad side that were incredibly lucky to come out of that match winners.
If Ghana, a team ranked 37th in the world, were capable of manhandling the US like they did, there’s no way we would ever be able to stand up to the mighty Portuguese ranked 4th or the demigod Germans ranked 2nd. We were out shot by the “measly” Africans 21 to 8, and surrendered 60% of the possession. If we give Cristiano Ronaldo that many chances, there’s no way he won’t put at least three past a hapless Tim Howard. Should we really expect anything better from a side that has ten players from the lowly MLS? And that Klinsmann guy: he’s in way over his head.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t a pretty win. But last time I checked, playing pretty wasn’t a prerequisite for achieving success. Furthermore, most of those shouting from the rooftops about our inferiority have a pretty poor understanding of what actually happened that game.
The last two times the US played Ghana in the World Cup, we actually outplayed them. We saw more of the ball and had more scoring opportunities. But in both matches, they waited for us to break our shape as we continued to push forward, then countered us and were able to nip victories on their very limited chances.
There was no way Jurgen was going to let that happen again.
As far as I could tell, the US wanted Ghana to have more of the ball. Since the Black Stars tend to rely heavily on their pace to unlock unbalanced defenses, the game plan was to find a lead as early as possible, then sit back and see if Ghana could actually defuse an organized defense. If there’s no room for them to counter into, then they would have to take their chances from distance. And that’s a spot where they are far from effective.
Now, the US found their desired lead probably way earlier than Klinsmann and his staff had bargained for. And our inability to posses — Michael Bradley in particular — when we were in possession was probably not how they expected things to play out either.
Need further evidence that this was a wise choice of tactics against the Ghanaians? You won’t need to look any further than Germany. The “favorites” in our Group of Death employed the very same tactic against Ghana, content to knock the ball around and try to counter the Africans themselves. And they were arguably less effective at it, given their 2-2 draw yesterday afternoon.
To be fair, we had a fair good bit of luck on our side too. Had Ghana been a minuscule more clinical with their finishing, things could have gone south very, very quickly. But the US defense — with special honors reserved for Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron — was able to hold them at bay and respond to retake the lead when Ghana did find their way through.
Sure, the tactics employed by the US were risky and far from attractive football, there was a very specific reason they were chosen: to nullify the main threat that Ghana provided. And don’t be surprised to see the Jurgen’s men trot out and play similarly against Portugal — and their counterattacking mastermind Cristiano Ronaldo — today either.
So before you go bashing the way we played, understand why we did it. And then remember that, no matter how attractive it may or may not have been, the three points are all that really matter.