NATAL, Brazil — After 90 brutal minutes of end-to-end action, the Americans emerged with a 2-1 win over Ghana in their World Cup opener Monday.
“It was a grind, but it was a wonderful win at the end of the day,” USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
U.S. fans were screaming for revenge Monday after the Black Stars eliminated the Americans from the past two Cups.
They got it. At a price.
Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey scored a shocking goal a half-minute in, but the U.S. couldn’t make it stand up. Andre Ayew tied the score in the 82nd minute after a brilliant back-heel pass from Asamoah Gyan.
Then, just four minutes later, 20-year-old John Brooks rose to head in Graham Zusi’s corner kick from 8 yards — the first substitute to ever score for the United States in 30 World Cup games over 84 years. The defender, an unexpected addition to the American roster, was so overcome he fell to the field and was unable to move even after teammates climbed off the dog pile. He made his national team debut only last August, and Brooks hadn’t scored in four appearances.
U.S. players ran onto the field to celebrate at the final whistle, jumping as supporters chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Now the Americans are in good position in Group G, where Germany opened with a 4-0 rout of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
“We got the three points that we badly wanted,” Klinsmann said.
He had predicted this would be like a final. Jozy Altidore was hoping it wasn’t his finale.
The forward was carried off on a stretcher after his left hamstring gave out in the 21st minute when he tried to control a long ball. He awaits tests that will determine whether he can return for this World Cup.
Dempsey went down too on a balmy late-autumn night but stayed in the game. The U.S. captain ended the first half with a tissue up his nose to stop the bleeding after John Boye’s kick to his face during a battle for a header in the 31st minute, and he was struggling for breath in the second.
The Americans “showed a lot of heart, a lot of character,” Dempsey said.
Tim Howard made big save after big save as Ghana outshot the U.S. 21-8.
Matt Besler came out at the start of the second half after feeling tightness in his right hamstring. It was his replacement, Brooks, who scored the winning goal. Zusi was also a sub, coming on for the hobbling Alejandro Bedoya in the second half.
By the time of the final whistle, the U.S. lineup had Brooks in central defense and a virtually invisible 23-year-old Aron Johannsson at forward.
Now the odds favor advancement. But that might depend on which players are able to make it on the field for Sunday’s game against Portugal in the hot and humid Amazon rain forest capital of Manaus.