Clint Dempsey’s opener after 35 seconds put his team in a fantastic situation, defending a lead as they are comfortable doing and, to top that, against a side that doesn’t distinguish itself coming from behind.
But 20 minutes later Jozy Altidore grabbed his left leg while chasing a long ball and it was over for him. A hamstring strain put an end to his participation in the game and likely for the rest of the World Cup. And at that moment, the dissenters raised above the parapet. Landon Donovan, they shouted. The perfect replacement. But he isn’t here. In his place, Jurgen Klinsmann sent Aron Johansson to the field.
In may have ended 2-1 for the Concacaf champions, who managed to escape with the victory thanks to a header by defender John Brooks with four minutes remaining, but it was probably the most unfair outcome we have had in this World Cup.
The decision to leave the iconic Donovan out of the squad could come back to haunt Klinsmann. Even if he is no longer at his prime, the LA Galaxy star would still be a better partner for Dempsey than either Johansson or Wondolowski.
Donovan was very clear in his statement after getting notice of his omission: he felt he was not only one of the 23 best American players, but could challenge for a starting spot. In the next games, Klinsmann may regret the day he took that option out of the picture.
From that moment Ghana totally controlled the game and descended time and again on Tim Howard’s goal. The USA, usually very dangerous on the counterattack, struggled to create chances on their own and Johansson, a 23-year old striker from AZ Alkmaar with less than 10 international games on his resume, barely touched the ball during the game.
Jurgen Klinsmann has reasons to be worried about his attack. USA survived Ghana’s onslaughts because they missed chance after chance to score. Against Portugal – even after their awful World Cup debut – and Germany, they need to do more to disturb the opposing defences than they did in Natal.
Three points are on the board, but it was far from convincing. The decision that Klinsmann has taken may ultimately define this World Cup for his team.