BY RYAN FLEMING
On a sultry evening in the Gold Coast town of Natal, the United States exacted revenge for eight years of misery imparted by Ghana’s Black Stars.
As soon as our feet hit the ground in Natal something felt different about this game. Maybe it was the ominous gray clouds that imparted a sense of urgency on the U.S. After all, the game with Ghana was viewed by many as the most manageable among the three in the so-called “Group of Death.”
Travel to the cauldron of Arena das Dunas was agonizingly slow. Taxis, motorcycles, and mini-buses choked the city’s already overloaded infrastructure. Once the gleaming lights of the stadium came into view we hopped out of our taxi and hoofed it the rest of the way. We were engulfed in a sea of red, white and blue. The American Outlaws supporters group serenaded us with patriotic chants – it had all the feelings of a home game.
The singing of the national anthem at sporting events usually feels like a necessary formality that stands between you and the game. At the World Cup, the anthems are a tremendous point of pride. Never have I seen so many Americans fervently belt out the Star Spangled Banner.
In the minutes preceding kickoff it was difficult to contain the nervous energy. Four years of preparation, waiting and anticipation climaxed over the course of the next 90 minutes.
The U.S. came out flying and it took 30 seconds (5th fastest goal in World Cup history) and the deft touch of the Sounders’ Clint Dempsey to get us off to a dream start. A euphoric buzz coursed through the American faithful. This is going to be the night we finally vanquish Ghana!
A series of unfortunate events, combined with Ghana’s resiliency, conspired to turn the evening into an arduous affair. The backbone of the U.S. took hits when both Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler were forced to leave during the first half due to injury and Dempsey literally took a hit to the face from the errant boot Ghana’s John Boye. The match went into halftime with the Americans clinging to the 1-0 lead.
The second half began much the same the first ended – with momentum on Ghana’s side. There almost seemed to be an air of inevitability about Ghana’s impending goal. The U.S. fans were in full voice, trying to will our side’s weary legs to hold on in the final 10 minutes.
U.S. hopes seemed dashed and Ghana’s lifted when Andre Ayew took a sweet backheel from Asamoah Gyan in the left channel and slipped it past Tim Howard for the equalizer. It was a massive gut punch for the U.S. fans and the disbelief was palpable. Not again!
We were in the stands in South Africa when Landon Donovan scored the epic goal in the waning moments to lift the U.S. to the round of 16. Nothing will compare to that indelible memory but the minutes that followed Ghana’s equalizer may be a close second.
It began when the U.S. mounted one of its few offensive attacks that took place outside of the first minute. Extra effort from Fabian Johnson won the Americans a corner kick. John Brooks latched onto Graham Zusi’s corner and powered it emphatically into the back of the Ghanaian net. Pandemonium ensued as high-fives, hugs, and every other form of adulation swept through the masses.
We did it! We almost gave it away but in the end were able to snatch victory out of the jaws of disappointment. Leaving the stadium the much repeated “I Believe That We Will Win” chant had been replaced with “I Believe That We Have Won!”
Who would’ve thought that after the first round of games that we’d have three more points than Spain, Uruguay and England…combined! One down and two (and hopefully many more) to go!