USA Crashes & Burns as Ghana & Africa Live to Dance Another Day

USA.  Ghana.  South Africa.  With ex-President Bill Clinton, rock star for the ages Mick Jagger, and newly crowned NBA champion Kobe Bryant among the approximately 1,000,000,000 watching, the dreams of a nation collided headfirst with those of a continent.  America was hoping that the glass slipper slid on and fit perfectly, and that they would be belle of the ball, dancing from the Sweet 16 into the Elite 8.  Ghana was the last hope of a continent that in hosting this event for the first time in history, hoped to show the world the new face of Africa, steeped in tradition, but evolving into the new millennium.  USA brought massive momentum following their death-defying last-second escape from Losers to Winners against Algeria.  The Black Stars of Ghana were most recently beaten by Germany.  The last, and only, time these teams met, was in the World Cup four years ago.  Obviously many of the players, and the venue, had changed.  But for Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and many of the stalwarts of Team USA, they wished to wash down the bitter taste of that tainted defeat, when many on the team felt they did not step up and grab the moment by the throat as they should have, and they were robbed by yet another diabolical and dastardly referee’s decision.  But all that was ancient history, as America and Africa squared off.  Winner lives to fight another day, loser crawls home with their tails between their legs to a depressed nation.
American fans were praying to the soccer gods that their team would not dig themselves another premature grave from which they would be forced to claw their way out.  Many were dismayed to see that Ricardo Clark, who looked so slow at the beginning of the England game, had been inserted into the lineup by coach Bob Bradley.  And sure enough, Clark tried to dribbled past a physical, feisty Ghanaian.  That may work back in the States, but not at the World Cup.  Ricardo got stripped bare, left naked clutching at then air.  Prince Boateng attacked the American goal like a hungry lion smelling blood.  Again looking like they’ve been heavily sedated, the American defense did not react quickly enough.  As the shot rolled in slow-motion toward a suddenly statuesque Tim Howard, the hearts of American soccer fans plummeted, plunging perilously as a sick sense of déjà vu froze their souls.  It seemed almost impossible, but America had somehow done it again.  Fallen behind practically before the game had even started.  But there it was.  The ball in the back of the American net.  The scoreboard read: Ghana 1 – USA 0.  There’s a certain kind of person who cannot function until they are under extreme threat.  At first you think it’s an accident.  But when you see Team USA cut their own fingers off over and over again, it begins to seem pathological.  You want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them.  Like that would help.  You want to send him to therapy.  Like that would help.  Then you realize there’s really nothing you can do.  It’s their problem, and they have to figure it out, all by themselves.  Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
Like a kid who gets unexpectedly bitch-slapped, America looked stunned.  Passes weren’t connecting, tackles were clumsy, heads not quite on straight.  Ricardo Clark, trying to make amends, rushed in with a rash, hacking tackle.  Yellow card.  The defense looked too easy to pry open.  And when Altidore finally did get a chance, he snatched at it crudely, instead of taking it smoothly.  At the half-hour, Coach Bradley proved what a big man he is, and admitted he was wrong.  He brought in Maurice Edu and took out Ricardo Clark.
At finally, in the 35th minute, Ghana’s defense revealed its own weakness.  Dempsey found himself cruising in at the top of the area.  He threaded a gorgeous pass right into the path of new boy Finley.  And there it was, staring him right in the face, the beautiful open goal.  All he had with slide t into the opening.  The only things stopping him were: 1) Ghana’s large and most excellent goalkeeper, Kinston; 2) His own ability to seize the day and write his name in the history books.  Sadly, from America’s perspective, he was able to overcome neither of these obstacles.  The golden rule in soccer, as pundit Alan Black reminded us recently is, “You have to take your chances.”  Ghana did.  America didn’t.  It was that simple.
Then, as happens so often in soccer, and indeed in life, in the flash of a blink of the wink of an eye, Ghana had gone from the attacked to the attacker.  Jay DeMerit, as he is want to occasionally do, swung mightily at a ball and completely whiffed.  And there was Ghana, barreling in on Howard.  This time T-Ho represented, pulling off yet another world-class save.
Suddenly it was halftime, and if you were an American fan, you were wondering if you had already used up your last Get out of Jail Free card.  You can only cut your nose off so many times before you spite your face.  Alcohol was consumed in mass quantities by Americans everywhere.  For in their hearts they believed that this team was a new incarnation of the Cardiac Kids.  Never give in, never give up never say die.
Sure enough, after another great substitution by Bob Bradley, and barely a minute in, Feilhaber has a wide open look at goal.  But his heavy first touch prevented him from going down in American history.  And again, Kinston was huge in the Ghana goal, and once again he saved the day.  But this seemed to spur team USA on, and they started pelting Ghana with everything they had.  Chance after chance they created, but Africa is last Hope proved how big, skillful fit, fierce and physical they really are.  Still, they did look ripe for the plucking.  Of course the more you put out up front, the more exposed you are in the back.  And this is what makes single elimination World Cup soccer so exciting.  Because every time Ghana came streaming up the field, it looked like they would score.
And then finally it happened.  Clint Dempsey made good.  With a beautiful little flick of the tip of his boot, he skated by the center of the Ghana defense, only to be scythed down with cruel brutality.  Up stepped Landon The Man Donovan, looking for all world like a gunslinger in an old-fashioned Western.  As a nation held its breath, Donovan did what he does.  Scores big goals.  Admittedly, with perhaps an inch and a half to spare, but in the record book, it won’t show that this penalty bounced off the inside of the post before going in.  History will record that Landon Donovan became the leading goalscorer in America’s World Cup history.  USA 1 – Ghana 1.
USA seemed transformed, and if you watched carefully, you could actually see their balls growing by the moment.  They started winning 50/50 balls.  Defending with sharp hardness instead of tentative anxiety.  Ghana’s cage looked rattled.  And suddenly, Altidore was fed the kind of pass that had been largely absent in this game.  But again, he did not seize the moment, and his heavy touch betrayed him.  He put the ball too close to the massive Kinston, who came out and extinguished the fire.  Then he stroked through a very nice pass to Michael Bradley, who was having yet another splendiferous game, clogging up the arteries defensively, and moving forward with dangerous alacrity.  Bradley couldn’t quite score, but you sensed that it was coming.  In the 80th minute, Altidore went off on another of us crashing runs, held off the clutches of the Ghanaian defender, and had a clear-cut look at goal.  Problem was, he was tumbling at the same time, and it just wouldn’t fall right for him.  In some ways, this is the story of the game.
By about the 85th minute, most American fan stopped breathing.  An eerie silence settled over the entire country.  They were hoping that the ball would be rifled into the Ghana net.  And praying the sanctity of their own goal would not be violated.
As the overtime started, USA looked confident, as well they should have, considering they were much the better team in the second half.  But of course, this is Team USA.  Just when their fans feel good about their team, and about themselves, they stick their heads in the toilet and flush.  A simple looking ball up the middle of the defense, two American defenders against one Ghanaian attacker.  Sluggish, lumbering, uncertain, DeMerit and Bocanegra were undone, and the next thing anyone knew, the ball was whizzing over Tim Howard’s head, nearly ripping a hole in the back of the net.
Heads fell into the hands, eyes rolled up in heads, and disgusted sighs flew out of American mouths.  They’d done it again.  It’s as he if they were Pavlov dogs, and hearing the referees whistle to begin play, had been conditioned to fall sleep.  Ghana 2 – USA 1.  If you were an American fan who saw the glass as half empty, you were thinking: America had finally gone too far, betrayed themselves once too often, all was lost, failure inevitable.  If you saw the glass as half-full, you were thinking: Well, now we’ve got them right where we want them.
They ran, legs weary, they hustled, hearts exhausted, but Team USA had put themselves under the gun once too often.  Suddenly there were but 15 minutes remaining in America’s World Cup.  Unless, of course, there was one last rabbit to be pulled out of one last hat.
Sadly, there was not.  Try as they might, and they did try mightily, USA could not overcome their own inability to start games, and to take chances when they created them.  And in the end, they could not overcome Africa and Ghana.  Yes, America can certainly hold their heads high.  They showed they can play.  But they were also, in the words of Landon Donovan, “a bit naïve.”  At this level, in the galaxy’s hottest spotlight, you cannot test the soccer gods too often.  Eventually, if you lean hard and long enough on your own sword, you will fall upon it, and you will perish.  American fans will thank this plucky underdog of a team for all the amazing heart-palpitating thrills.  Just as next time around, in 2014 in Brazil, they will demand more.

About David Sterry

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, book editor, activist, and book doctor. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. “As laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing, what more could you ask for?” – The Irish Times.

, , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply