Jonathan Mensah determined to prove himself in MLS
Friday, May 27th had to be one of Jonathan Mensah's toughest days out on the football field, and that is saying a lot for a 26-year-old who has played in two World Cups, five Africa Cup of Nations, and in Italy, Spain, France, and Russia.
Mensah was part of a Columbus Crew team that was mauled 5-0 by Toronto FC, with his personal performance the subject of intense scrutiny. The Ghana international had a hard time dealing with Tostaint Ricketts, fouling him for the penalty that resulted in the opening goal, and his night didn't get any better from there.
It prolonged what has been a tough introduction to Major League Soccer for Mensah, the highest-earning Ghanaian in the league, but over the next week or so he is hoping to show soccer fans in America that there is a lot more to him than the defender who gets turned and beaten for pace.
Mensah is part of the Ghana side that will play two matches in Houston and Connecticut, against Mexico and the United States respectively. The game against the USMNT on 1 July will be familiar to him too, in what is an emerging soccer rivalry. It will be the fourth meeting between Ghana and the United States this century, and the first outside the World Cup.
In three games in that competition, Ghana won two and lost one. Mensah started and finished both winning games and says there is a growing sense of rivalry developing between the two.
"It is a rivalry that is building up," he tells KweséESPN. "The games have been intense and there is a proper knockout feeling to the one I have played in as if you were playing in the semifinals of a cup competition."
Mensah speaks of how before a second round game against the USA at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - which was decided by a stunning Asamoah Gyan goal in extra-time - they were constantly reminded about an earlier meeting at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when Ghana won through Stephen Appiah's penalty.
Then, in Brazil three years ago, Mensah and his colleagues conceded a late goal to lose to the Americans in the group stage.
"All the games have ended 2-1 and we have won most of them, so in many ways this would be revenge or continuation," he says. "It is a friendly game, but it would be tough to call."
For Mensah, the game could mean more than that. "I can't argue with those who think I haven't played my best since I came here. It is up to me to keep improving game after game."
That improvement is also needed for him to force his way back into the Black Stars line-up after he was dislodged from the starting XI by Leicester City's Daniel Amartey. That effectively ended a run of almost seven years when Mensah - considered one of the most talented Ghanaian centre-backs - always got into the team after graduating from the Under-20 World Cup-winning team.
He feels that sometimes the jury has been out on his Major League Soccer career too early and is adamant he has not felt like this is a holiday: "I never underrated the league before and now that I am playing here I have even more respect for the MLS."
He now hopes respect for him will go a notch up after the two games in the USA, before translating that to his club side.