Longtime German striker and 2006 German NT Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been surrounded by controversey since accepting the U.S. Men’s National Team’s coaching job in the summer of 2011. After being pursued two previous times by U.S. Soccer, Klinsmann finally accepted the job offer in July, 2011, but his stint as American coach so far has rarely continued without a chorus of criticism following his decisions. He’s been questioned at times for his team’s lack of goal-scoring, for his bringing in a huge group of players to represent the U.S. during this last World Cup cycle, for being too reliant on German-born players that hold dual citizenship and some have wondered in print if Klinsmann’s success with the German National Team at the 2006 World Cup wasn’t due more to the presence of assistant coach Jogi Löw, now Germany’s head man.
More recently, Klinsmann has been deluged with complaints for preferring youngsters John Anthony Brooks, 21, Julian Green, 19 and 20 year-old DeAndre Yedlin of the Seattle Sounders over veterans such as Clarence Goodson, Michael Parkhurst and especially all-time leading U.S. goal-scorer Landon Donovan in fashioning the 2014 World Cup final 23 man USMNT roster. Klinsmann emphasized pace and fitness over experience in forming his squad, and received quite a bit of backlash for doing so in the last few weeks.
But,for the first time since the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT won their World Cup tournament opening match, defeating Ghana 2-1 in Natal, on a 86′ header by Brooks minutes after Ghana had knotted the score at 1-1. Klinsmann also brought an end to the Ghanians’ streak against the U.S. in which Ghana eliminated the Americans from advancing from the Group Stage in 2006 and again eliminated the Yanks in the Round of 16 four years ago in South Africa, while earning himself respect and vindication for being true to his ideals of how to best build a World Cup squad, despite the complaints of many U.S. supporters.
But it wasn’t easy.
Klinsmann, 49. saw his team get off to a 1-0 advantage before even a minute had ticked away from opening kickoff. The determined Clint Dempsey, working well with ex-Schalke man Jermaine Jones, was able to slalom towards the Ghanian goal and deliver a left-footed shot that just kissed inside the farpost to reward the Americans with an early lead over the shocked Ghanaians. It took awhile, but Ghana eventually returned to their normal attacking mode, particularly after the hamstring injury that put American forward Jozy Altidore out of action in the 23rd minute of play. Although American goalkeeper Tim Howard was only called on to make one first-half save (diving to thwart a shot from Asamoah Gyan), it was easy to see the momentum turning in favor of Ghana, as the Americans had little to show for possession and shots. The Ghanaians were playing with the confidence of a squad that had beaten their opponents twice in big matches, and only some determined American defending and some off-target shooting kept the African side from scoring.
More injury worries saw Klinsmann bring in Hertha Berlin’s towering central defender, John Anthony Brooks, to replace Matt Besler, who’d taken a knock in the first half, after the intermission. The second half continued with Ghana having a majority of possession (they finished the match with almost 60% of the ball) and becoming more and more dangerous. Finally, at the 82 minute mark, Marseille’s Andre Ayew squeezed through the equalizer after a wondrous backheel pass from Gyan, and the American’s chance to grab all three points in their Group of Death opener appeared impossible due to their lack of offense during most of the game and the little time remaining.
Brooks, though, saved the day A few minutes later, a brilliant corner from Graham Zusi was well-met by the powerfully built German-American, who headed downward and into Ghana’s goal on one bounce. (Brooks thus became the first American substitute to score a goal at the World Cup). The amazed reaction by the throng of American fans in Natal was palpable, and Klinsmann’s men did enough to hold off the disbelieving Ghanaians for three more minutes of regulation and five minutes of added time to clinch a historic victory.
For one day at least, there will be little criticism of Klinsmann and his methods. They worked. An American win against Ghana was a necessity with Portugal and Germany group matches upcoming, and Klinsmann’s squad did what it needed to do. Despite being second best in possession, shots taken, shots on goal and corner kicks to Ghana, and letting a lead slip away, the Americans were triumphant, and for at least a day, that is all that should matter both to Klinsmann and his critics.
Photo courtesy of ISI Photos