With Win Over Ghana, U.S. An Unlikely Star In World Cup's 'Grand Theater'
World Cup fever seems to have swept much of the nation, especially after the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 on Monday. The U.S. men’s national team is led by captain and Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey, who scored the first goal in the first 30 seconds of the match.
As U.S. prepares to take on Portugal on Sunday afternoon, sports commentator Art Thiel says the team's win has changed the expected narrative of the World Cup, or what Art calls "grand theater."
"It's really been a wonderful demonstration of not only soccer's elegance but its roughness and its grouchiness — all kinds of things that appeal emotionally to a lot of people," he said. "The way the games have gone in terms of drama, storylines, hairstyles and shoe styles, it's all adding to a growing appreciation for not only the tournament but for the sport."
Brazil A 'Great Setting' Despite Controversies
Now that the games have begun, Brazil is proving to be a great setting, says Art.
"All the controversies, all the shortcomings, all the misdeeds that have gone into the preparation now have sort of receded because I think even Brazilians are getting quite excited," he said. "Even though their complaints about resource mismanagement and other things that have gone on culturally and economically are justified, they get the party. And nobody parties like Brazilians."
U.S. Win Goes Beyond One Game
The U.S. team and its fans were certainly partying after their big win.
"That was a confluence of multiple events that made that win far bigger than just one outcome," Art said. "Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach, had deliberately downplayed the U.S. prospects, saying it's unrealistic for Americans to expect to win the World Cup, which was dead honest. But I think his internal message was, 'Guys, all we have to do is win one game at a time.' And that's what they did, in a very dramatic game."
Dempsey Delivered The Drama
After losing to Ghana in the past two World Cup tournaments, the U.S. beat Ghana on Monday. The Sounders' own Dempsey scored within the first 30 seconds of play — the fastest U.S.A. World Cup goal and one of the 10 fastest ever in tournament history. Dempsey also broke his nose in the game, but kept playing.
Ghana came back hard and evened the score.
"And then in the 86th minute, a reserve — a 21-year-old kid that no one ever heard of [John Brooks] — comes in with a header, and the entire stadium exploded. And everywhere across North America, people were excited," Art said.
"It was a remarkable, dramatic bit of theater. I think it really boosted American awareness and appreciation of the game. And certainly the excitement has ratcheted up for potentially more success in the tournament," Art said.
Here's a look at what it was like at several venues around the U.S. and in Brazil, when the U.S. scored the winning goal:
Portugal 'Even Stronger' Than Ghana
Art says the U.S. can expect an even more formidable opponent in Portugal.
"The U.S. has been the underdog throughout," he said. "Portugal is even a stronger team than Ghana. But both teams are going to be missing key personnel."
U.S. star scorer Jozy Altidore is out for Sunday with an injured hamstring. And Art says it's unknown whether Dempsey will be able to breathe through his nose by then.
"And if he can't," he said, "I wouldn't put him in the game. There are plenty of other guys who could do almost as good as Dempsey."
Portugal is also missing some players, but the team still has the player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo.
"He is a fabulous talent," Art said. "I hope people who really want to know what soccer looks like at the top will pay attention to this guy because he is something special."
U.S. 'Has A Chance' To Advance
"The U.S. has gained much confidence from what they did against Ghana," Art said. "I think the possibilities are they could at least get a draw and possibly a win, given that Portugal has not performed up to expectations.
"It will be high drama Sunday and it's a possibility now that's much stronger that the U.S. could get out of group play and into the knockout round of 16."