The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 17, 2014

Questions remain after U.S. triumph

When the San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young was said to have finally emerged out of Joe Montana’s shadow — or more famously, removed the monkey from his back.

Monday night in Natal, Brazil, King Kong was finally lifted off of the Statue of Liberty’s back when the United States defeated Ghana 2-1 in a highly dramatic, must-win opening match of the 2014 World Cup.

It was a great performance by the United States — for 35 seconds.

It was the remaining 89 minutes and 25 seconds that left the 20,000 American fans inside the stadium and the 14 million more who watched on ESPN and Univision on the edge of their patriotic seats.

The facts are facts. Clint Dempsey’s goal in the opening minute will go down as one of the all-time great goals in U.S. soccer history — serving as the fastest goal for the United States in World Cup history.

But there are other facts that need careful examination, without red, white and blue glasses.

n Jozy Altidore’s hamstring leaves U.S. attack hamstrung.

In soccer watching pubs across the country, there was a collective gasp and groan in the 21st minute, when American striker Altidore grasped his left hamstring and hit the ground, while playing a long ball down the sideline. While reports from the United States’ camp suggest Altidore will be re-evaluated, and could possibly return to action before the end of the group stage, it’s highly unlikely the talented U.S. offensive weapon sees the pitch again in Brazil. Substitute Aron Johannsson is a highly capable forward, playing in the Dutch league, but failed to hold possession during his limited touches. If the 24-year-old Johannsson is to be called upon by manager Jurgen Klinsmann Sunday evening, he will need a much tighter performance. Otherwise, look for San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski to eventually find his spot in the starting XI.

n Where in the world is Michael Bradley?

Perhaps there is no American more important to the success of the United States during the 2014 Cup than The General. But the Toronto FC midfielder was nowhere to be seen, even though he spent the full 90 plus minutes on the pitch. While Bradley seemed to help the shaky American defense on the Ghana attack, Bradley’s offensive efforts were mostly unheralded, often losing possession or making sloppy plays into Ghana’s defense. Bradley seemed uninterested in contributing offensively, as seen by his final-minute touch.

n When it comes to Kyle Beckerman, Klinsmann doesn’t care what you think.

There are many so-called American soccer experts who felt the inclusion of the Real Salt Lake midfielder into the starting XI for the Ghana match was the wrong call. Luckily for the United States, Klinsmann doesn’t seek the advice of bar room blowhards when selecting his squad. Instead, the dreadlocked Beckerman did what he does best — control possession and make defensive stops when needed. Little has been said of Beckerman’s play on Ghana’s attack late in the match, but a tackle just outside the top of the box may have saved the United States and helped secure a precious three points. Beckerman’s play isn’t the prettiest you’ll ever see, but it’s practical.

n In Jurgen we trust.

As someone who feels that Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the U.S. roster was a mistake, it’s hard to argue with the decision-making of Klinsmann when it comes to the addition of certain players — especially that of German Bundesliga defender John Anthony Brooks.  While many were lambasting Klinsmann for leaving Donovan off the roster, there were just as many who questioned the addition of Brooks over more seasoned players like Michael Parkhurst. However, all those doubts swiftly went out the window when Brooks became a national hero, heading a Graham Zusi corner kick past Ghana’s keeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey to secure the win. American fans had a little fun with Brooks following the match, updating his Wikipedia entry to suggest he’s the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln — and on that night, he may have just been as popular.

n Defense wins championships.

If the United States hopes to move out of the group of death — something Nate Silver of predicts as having a 63 percent possibility of happening after beating Ghana — it will need solid defensive play in the next two matches.  Former WVU defender, Geoff Cameron had a good night keeping up with Asamoah Gyan, but the seemingly ageless Demarcus Beasley struggled at times keeping up with Christian Atsu, getting beat on several trips down the left flank.  Fabian Johnson also struggled on the right side, hanging with Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah, getting beat by Ayew to allow the lone Ghanian goal.  

Thankfully, Tim Howard proved once again why he is one of the greatest keepers in the world, bailing out a struggling defense several times. Only time will tell if Timmy can do the same against Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, or the incredible Thomas Muller of Germany.

— E-mail: jrollins and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

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