The United States got off to the best imaginable start in their opening 2014 World Cup match against Ghana on Monday, courtesy of goal-scoring heroics from Clint Dempsey and later by substitute John Brooks.
Just 29 seconds into the final fixture of Day 5, Dempsey found the back of the net with a beautiful strike to the far post:
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant couldn't help but get excited about Dempsey's dominant touches in the early going:
Another basketball sensation in LeBron James may have just lost the NBA Finals, but the Miami Heat forward was ecstatic on Monday:
Now that's how you start a match!! Clint Dempsey Goal!!!!— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2014
The BBC's Gary Lineker provided some historical context for the goal:
Clint Dempsey's goal was the 5th fastest in World Cup history.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 16, 2014
ESPN's Darren Rovell noted that Dempsey had a rather low profile on the overall American consciousness:
13.1: Percent of people in the US who said they knew who Clint Dempsey was, according to @CelebrityDBI— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) June 16, 2014
That probably isn't the case any longer, at least for anyone who was tuning in to one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. When the victory was final, the following pregame quote from Dempsey seemed rather appropriate.
"We look forward to (Monday) and giving it everything that we can,” said Dempsey, per The Seattle Times' Michael Lewis. "We’ve prepared the best we can. We’re ready for it. It’s not about talking. It’s about getting out there and showing by our actions."
But it wasn't all pretty for Dempsey or his teammates beyond then. A brutal collision later in the first half saw Dempsey get clobbered in the nose on a 50-50 ball:
NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala praised Dempsey for his toughness for returning to the pitch just minutes after suffering the gash:
Clint Dempsey, hockey player.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) June 16, 2014
The U.S. took their foot off the gas against a Ghana team that had knocked them out of the previous two World Cups. After Andre Ayew scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute, it was Brooks' turn to take center stage.
It was Brooks' fifth cap for the U.S. national team, and at 86', he became the first American substitute ever to score a World Cup goal.
The set piece on a corner kick saw Graham Zusi loft in a beautiful cross, followed by an even better Brooks header. ESPN's Jeremy Schaap captured the scene from the pitch at Arena das Dunas:
Dan Levy of Bleacher Report felt that Brooks' merchandise would see a big boost in sales:
Oh, now EVERYBODY is going to want John Brooks jerseys. :)— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) June 16, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info added another anecdote to accentuate just how unlikely of a story Brooks was in scoring the winner:
At 21 years + 139 days old, John Brooks is now the youngest player to score in the 2014 World Cup #GHAvsUSA— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
SportsCenter's official Twitter account photographed Brooks' priceless reaction, as he collapsed to the turf thereafter in apparent disbelief at what he had done:
Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer asserts that Brooks has catapulted himself into fame:
Your updated National Brooks Rankings: 1. Herb 2. Mel 3. John 4. Robinson 5. Hatlen. #USA— Mike Sielski (@MikeSielski) June 17, 2014
New England Revolution staff writer Jeff Lemieux wanted to compliment Fabian Johnson for his play that led to Brooks' moment of epic glory:
Dempsey's opener. Brooks' winner. Zusi's service. But let's not forget Johnson's effort to force the corner which led to the winner. #USA— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) June 17, 2014
This amazing win should give coach Jurgen Klinsmann's American squad some massive momentum for the rest of group play.
Next up is a tangle with Portugal, who lost 4-0 to Germany in Monday's opener and have a massive goal differential to overcome. If the U.S. can salvage even a draw, they will have a great chance at advancing to the knockout stage.
Whether Brooks has a bigger role in store moving forward remains to be seen. However, he has laid a foundation to show he can excel on the World Cup stage. That could have a trickle-down impact on the rest of the USA team, and Dempsey's tone-setting tally in the first minute is also a vital rallying point as the Americans seek to shock the rest of the world in Brazil.