WASHINGTON — If it’s going to happen, it probably has to happen like this.
The rallying cry of U.S. Men’s National Team supporters — “I believe that we will win” — says it all. No matter what twists and turns the game may take, no matter how late the clock ticks without a favorable scoreline, just believe.
In an absolute knockdown, drag out, heavyweight fight of a soccer match, the U.S. Men’s National Team weathered injuries to two of their best players and a relentless Ghana attack to snatch a miraculous, last-minute, 2-1 victory and three crucial points in their 2014 World Cup opener.
If the U.S. are to advance through group play, something many doubted they would, it seems they will do so the same way as in 2012, with dramatic, late-game flair.
Clint Dempsey — who would later take a shot to the face from a flying shin — gave the United States the early life they so often seem to miss in international competition, scoring on the opening piece of possession, just 29 seconds into the game. It marked the quickest score in American World Cup history, and the fifth- fastest ever.
From there, though, Ghana largely controlled the game and the scoring opportunities, a reality that became much starker when enigmatic but extremely talented striker Jozy Altidore pulled up lame in the 21st minute and crumpled to the turf. The prognosis — a left hamstring strain — could be key for the U.S. moving forward. Moments later, defenseman Matt Besler needed replacing as well.
For the rest of the first half and much of the second, the U.S. played a game of survival, allowing their opponents to possess the ball and attack constantly, thwarting chance after chance until finally, the walls caved in, with Andre Ayew putting one past goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 82nd minute.
“It’s a superb goal to break American hearts!” exclaimed legendary soccer commentator Ian Darke, calling the play-by-play.
That goal appeared to have taken the wind — and three points — out of the American chests. But, true to form, an American hero was born out of that moment of despair.
A superb header by late substitute John Brooks off a corner from Graham Zusi put the U.S. ahead for good in the 86th minute.
“Have they stolen it?” Darke asked aloud, as a largely pro-U.S. crowd lost its collective mind behind him.
It certainly felt that way, to any Ghana supporter, or any American who is honest with themselves about the nature of the contest. But the result is all that matters.
“I think that game went just as planned,” said Howard after the game.
He was talking more about the pace, the grind-it-out nature of the defense. But based on past U.S. results, he may as well have been talking about the dramatic finish.
The United States absolutely needed no worse than a draw out of their opening game, with world terrors Portugal and Germany yet to come. Now the focus shifts to Sunday, when they will face a Portuguese side that was humiliated by Germany earlier Monday, 4-0, playing more than half the game a man down due to a red card to Pepe.
The U.S. will have to hope that his suspension, and perhaps his teammates’ tired legs, help give them an edge to find at least a draw in that contest. A win, meanwhile, would almost assuredly put them through.
Whatever happens, it appears the U.S. Men’s National Team can guarantee us one thing: you can believe it will be exciting.