Few categories on the scorecard point to a United States advantage in their opening 2014 FIFA World Cup match with Ghana. That is, of course, except the one that matters most.
During the USMNT's 2-1 victory over Group G cohort Ghana, they controlled possession for just 41 percent of the affair, per FIFA's match stats. Another telling number from FIFA is Ghana's 65 dangerous attacks to the Americans' 22.
Yet they escaped with a win after John Brooks, a substitute for the injured Matt Besler, nailed a set-piece header in the 86th minute shortly after Ghana obtained an equalizer. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it's unprecedented for a U.S. sub to offer any scoring.
The U.S. have three points to their credit heading into Sunday's showdown versus Portgual, but they'll need to play much better to earn another victory against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. Here are some areas of improvement for Team USA.
Keep Playing Stellar Defense
The defense deserves ample credit for keeping the match 1-0 as long as it did. Considering Ghana controlled the possession and enjoyed a higher quality and quantity of scoring opportunities, the U.S. were lucky to see the game tied at 1-1 with minutes remaining.
Center midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones held down the fort in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing the bend-but-don't-break philosophy to succeed. Even though Ghana controlled the ball, those two prevented them from making too much leeway.
For the Americans to make a deep World Cup run, the defense will have to be on top of its game, especially if Jozy Altidore misses significant time. This squad won't win a shootout any time soon, and the scorers in their path only figure to get tougher.
With that said, the U.S. must find a way to open up the offense, and that involves loosening the grip on their tightly wound attack.
Take More Chances
After quickly finding the net less than a minute into the match, the U.S. sunk into preservation mode, fighting to hold a 1-0 lead rather than working to expand it.
Clint Dempsey saw an opportunity and pounced before many latecomers even turned on the game, but that aggressiveness waned throughout the bout. With a lead in hand, the U.S. became too conservative, abandoning the approach that put them atop seconds into the contest.
To be fair, injuries can be blamed for forcing the squad's hand. Losing Altidore in the 23rd minute left them in a precarious predicament, and starting center back Besler also went down during a costly victory.
Yet the tempo must change against the more offensive-minded Germany and Portugal. They need to restore some balance in order to keep opponents honest. If they keep letting the other side hang around, they're prone to make a costly mistake.
Don't Depend on Last-Minute Heroics
The United States have a flare for the dramatic, one that often saves them from trouble but could just as easily become their downfall.
It saved them on Thursday, when they looked well on their way to draw after Andre Ayew evened the score at the 82nd minute. Brooks delivered the winner in dramatic fashion, sending a burst of euphoria throughout a nation pretending it has loved the sport all along.
Call manager Jurgen Klinsmann a prophet, but he likely just fell for the hindsight bias when stating after the game that he knew they'd win all along, per Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl.
Those epic finishes lead to great highlights, better stories and a lot of chatter about "teams of destiny." Right now, they look merely like a squad of good fortune to be holding three points. That's not divine intervention; it's just good timing on their second score.
Playing to the final whistle is a calling card for the U.S., but it'd be nice if they didn't need a last-ditch effort once in a while.
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