Three points: U.S. hold off Ghana 2-1
NATAL, Brazil -- The Americans came for nothing less than three points against Ghana. And somehow, amazingly, they got them in what was a thrilling, epic and also costly 2-1 victory at Arena das Dunas.
Here are three thoughts following a truly spellbinding match.
1. Dempsey's opener was huge
Coming into the match, most agreed that the U.S. would have to weather the early storm and not -- at any cost -- concede the opener to the Black Stars in the first 20 minutes of the match. So when Dempsey took a simple pass from Jermaine Jones at the top the box and dribbled his way past John Boye for a brilliant individual goal -- the fastest in U.S. World Cup history -- they were playing with house money.
They'd need every cent of it. When play resumed, the Ghanaians dominated the Yanks the rest of the way. They attacked repeatedly on the right side against U.S. left-back DaMarcus Beasley and pinned the Americans back in their own end for long stretches. It only got worse when target man Jozy Altidore, a vital, pressure-relieving outlet up top, was forced to leave the match midway though the first half with what was officially diagnosed as a left hamstring strain.
For well over an hour, Ghana's eventual 82nd-minute equalizer seemed inevitable. Second-half sub John Brooks played the unlikely hero four minutes later, but his late winner wouldn't have been possible without the early strike from the relentless Dempsey.
2. Injuries to Altidore, Besler could have tourney-long repercussions
The 24-year-old Altidore has long been a polarizing figure among U.S. fans, but his many detractors quickly found out how important he is to the Americans' overall game. With no like-for-like replacement on the 23-man American roster, Altidore's absence was felt immediately. Aron Johannsson, though skilled, isn't well-suited to playing with his back to goal and didn't see much of the ball after coming on to lead the line.
As if losing Altidore weren't bad enough, center-back Matt Besler pulled up lame just before halftime. In a move U.S. Soccer said was "precautionary," Besler was replaced after the break by the 21-year-old Brooks, who entered the match with just four international caps -- all of them in friendlies -- to his name.
-Next up: Portugal on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Brooks held his own after a shaky first few minutes and headed home the game-winner, but clearly, losing two long-time lineup locks in the first half of the Americans' first match in Brazil was not the way coach Jurgen Klinsmann drew things up. If both injured players are unable to return, depth could become an issue in the remaining Group G matches versus Portugal (who, it must be noted, could be missing two starters of their own against the Yanks) and Germany.
3. U.S. fans in Natal were the 12th man
It started with a deafening roar when backup keepers Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando came out for the pregame warmup when the stadium was still only half full. The first "I believe that we will win" chant went up moments later, and it was followed by a spine-tingling rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner just before kickoff. The pro-U.S. crowd, which was 20,000-strong by some estimates, went nuts, predictably, when Dempsey gave the Americans the unexpected early lead.
They kept the decibel level high the rest of the way and willed their wounded team to the win. The loudest "U-S-A" chant of the night might have come after Andre Ayew pulled the Black Stars level in the 82nd minute.
Don't underestimate the importance of the fans' impact on a U.S. squad that was badly outplayed for most of the match.
Up next: Portugal in Manaus, 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.