Cherundolo DeMerit Bocanegra Bornstein
Donovan Bradley Clark Dempsey
Paintsil Mensah Jonathan Sarpei
Inkoom Asamoah Ayew
KP Boateng 5'
Donovan 62' (pen)
Well that wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
The 90 minutes of regular time were fairly true to form. The first half was standard USA when favored: unsteady and soon behind thanks to individual errors. In this case it was an awful goal conceded in the 5th, with mistakes from Clark, DeMerit, and Howard. Clark feebly gave the ball away in midfield, Boateng charged forward while DeMerit strangely retreated too far into his own box, and Howard was beaten at his near post.
The US was outnumbered in midfield but still tried to play through the center given Donovan and Dempsey's proclivities to cut inside. Ghana played at a higher tempo, clearly boosted by the "home" crowd. To his credit, Bradley quickly changed matters, taking off Clark (who picked up an egregiously petulant yellow right after the goal) on the half-hour mark, and slowly but surely, the US started to blunt Ghana's domination in the middle; the Africans had two-thirds of the possession in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the US had one first-half chance after a Ghana giveaway put Findley through, only to see his tame shot too close to Kingson.
But, just like against Slovenia, the US responded after the interval. Just start every USA game with 45 minutes off the clock and a deficit, and tell Bob Bradley he's got to make a change. This time, he took off the underwhelming Findley for an additional midfielder in Feilhaber, who ostensibly went out left with Dempsey moving up as a second striker. And it could have paid dividends immediately with the USA's best move so far: Dempsey to Altidore to Benny, only to see Kingson come out well to block Feilhaber's attempted close-range chip.
But after increasing US dominance with Ghana retreating, lovely feet from Clint Dempsey won a penalty which Donovan duly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way and his shot nestling in off the post. From there, you'd expect the US to take advantage of the momentum and tiring Ghanaian legs, but it wasn't coming. Bradley shot too close to the keeper in the 76th while Altidore's slipping shot curled just wide of the far post five minutes later. Unlike the stereotype (and regularly seeing Kingson, Mensah and Paintsil play in England, there usually truth in the stereotype), Ghana's defense was excellent, and it was probably the best game I've seen Kingson play. Usually unsure on crosses and bouncing shots, the keeper made absolutely no mistakes today.
Given the drama that surrounds US matches, extra time wasn't exactly surprising. Gomez came on for the disappointing Altidore, who did little other than use his strength to hold up play; he provided next to no threat in front of goal, and comparisons to Heskey look increasingly valid. And it was Ghana's lone striker who struck less than three minutes in, splitting the center-backs on a punt forward, with DeMerit again partly culpable when caught too high up the field. Gyan held off Bocanegra and slotted past Howard. Unexpected to say the least.
Seemingly trying to replicate Ghana's go-ahead goal, although also very tired, the US was limited to hoofing it toward Dempsey and Gomez, few of which came anywhere near threatening. In the heat of the moment, I'm struggling to this of any US shots in extra time until the 120th minute, when Gomez headed Cherundolo's cross towards Dempsey, only to see his volley quickly closed down. As infuriating as it was, Ghana's time-wasting had to be expected – you see it time and time again in situations such as this. And thus, the US is on their way home after being one of the darlings of the tournament. I'm interested to see how ESPN will spin this one.
Work ethic and a never-say-die attitude will only take you so far, especially when the star of the team disappoints outside of his equalizer from the spot. You can only make so many stupid first half mistakes without paying for it.
But the post-match criticism of Bob Bradley is already annoying me. Admittedly, I'm as baffled by his love of Clark as the rest of you, but other than the starting XI, he did nothing – nothing – wrong today. He took Clark out earlier than almost any other manager would and made the right substitution during the break to fix the first half problems. For those calling for his head: can you name me any other US-based manager who's better? And, unlike England (or Ghana, for that matter), the US needs a homegrown manager because of the national team's continuing reliance on MLS players.
More important were mistakes on goals (DeMerit involved in both, albeit far less on the first), Donovan's invisibility and pout worthy of Gerrard on his worst day, and the US' lack of an out-and-out goalscorer (Hi Charlie Davies!). Say it quietly, but Ghana deserved to win. They won the tactical battle in the first half and the fitness battle in extra time. This was easily their best match of the tournament so far.
I'm sorry to see my countrymen out – they had an excellent tournament, exceeding (my) expectations, especially Michael Bradley – but they've only themselves to blame today.