On a balmy Monday night a jam-packed Brooklyn Heights crowd watching the United States World Cup opener on the big screens at The Custom House was treated to a number of US firsts: fifth fastest Cup goal in history (but the fastest in US World Cup history), defender John Brooks’ first-ever goal as a member of the US squad, and—after two previous losses—a first ever win over Ghana. These all added up to a thrilling 2-1 victory for the Stars & Stripes in their first match of the 2104 World Cup in Natal, Brazil.
To the absolute delight of the raucous spectators, just 29 seconds into the match US forward Clint Dempsey accepted a beautiful feed from Jermaine Jones, danced deftly around Ghana defender John Boye, and rifled a left-footed blast past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. The pro-USA pub crowd exploded with both joy and wonder at this almost unbelievable stroke of good fortune.
As the match settled in, anxiety began to build as the Ghana attack washed over the American defense, the Black Stars misfiring at critical moments or impatiently hammering shots over the US net.
Your reporter’s delightful barmaid, originally from County Mayo, kept the food and drink coming as we chewed nervously, waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Yanks. At the 21st minute we experienced collective nausea as American striker Jozy Altidore—following a run deep into Ghana territory—seized the back of his left leg then flopped to the ground. The verdict? Strained hamstring and it’s doubtful Altidore will return to Cup play.
Then Dempsey—the lone remaining US scoring threat—took a foot to the face. “Broken nose” said tablemate Carl Quigley, St. Francis Brooklyn aquatics director who witnessed plenty of these injuries in his 35 years as both player and head coach for the Terriers men’s water polo program. Luckily, Dempsey quickly returned to the pitch as the Americans held on for dear life.
Not even free samples of Sam Adams lager could quell the tension as Ghana increased the pressure on US netminder Tim Howard.
The buzz around the bar was about the Americans’ fitness, as US players continually pulled up short, grabbing legs, backs and sides in pain.
Quigley—ever the coach—observed late in the second half that the US eleven was exhausted, having been pushed to the breaking point by Ghana’s speedy forwards, including right wing Christian Atsu.
“This has all the makings of a 2-1 game” said the prescient Quigley, though no one believed the drooping US squad had two goals in them this day.
In the 82nd minute the US defense finally broke. The Black Star’s Asamoah Gyan slipped a backheel pass to striker Andre Ayew, who beat Tim Howard with a left footed strike to even the score at 1-all. Our despair quickly turned into desperation, as the now-energized Ghana squad flew around the pitch while we started slackly at the screen.
Then came young Brooks’ miracle goal. Somehow, the Stars and Stripes mustered an offensive thrust in the Black Stars’ half, earning a corner kick in the 86th minute. Graham Zusi twisting corner kick struck Brooks’ noggin, and all was bedlam in the bar as the ball bounced past Ghana’s startled netminder.
“We dominated the whole game,” Black Stars coach Akwasi Appiah lamented after the match. “But that first goal was a disaster.”
For US fans stateside in the Heights, pure elation was our elixir as we filed out of the pub into a warm summer breeze.