Not Good Enough: USA falls to Ghana 2-1 and Crashes Out of the World Cup

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: June 23, 2006

MIAMI – In the end, they simply weren’t good enough.

Yes, the US were done in by a horrible penalty call against Oguchi Onyeweu that provided the winning margin in the US’ 2-1 loss to Ghana which elminated them from the 2006 World Cup.

Yes, they could have used Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni today, unavailable because of some questionable officiating in the match against Italy.

Yes, they had injury drama to Claudio Reyna and John O’Brien.

But yet the US need only look in the mirror to find answer to the question: Why are we going home?

The US came into Thursday’s match against the 4-time African Champions needing a win and a loss by the Czech Republic against Italy to advance to the second round. Tha Ghanaians, fresh off their 2-0 spanking of the Czech Republic, needed the same.

While the US were missing Pope and Mastroeni, the Black Stars were without Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan, their goal scorers against Italy. DaMarcus Beasley made his return to the starting line-up and was joined by newcomer Jimmy Conrad replacing the suspended Pope.

However, US coach Bruce Arena once again opted for the 4-5-1 lineup which had produced one shot on goal through two games and was again going to rely on balls played to Brian McBride in the air.

German referee Markus Merk was determined stamp his presence on the game early and did so the 5th minute by giving Michael Essien a yellow card for tripping Reyna as the US’ captain intercepted a pass.

It was Essien’s second yellow card of the round and he’ll miss the next match against Brazil. Two minutes later, a handball was given as the reason for a yellow card to the US’ Eddie Lewis.

The inclusion of Merk as a featured part of the match would be a continuing theme throughout this match.

It was a nervous start to the match for both teams. Ghana was having trouble stringing passes together and the US looked tentative, a worrying sign for US fans who knew their side had to press for goals if they wanted to advance.

The first real chance for either side came in the 9th minute when Conrad gave away a free kick after being nutmegged (having the ball played between his legs) by Derek Boateng.

However John Mensah could not keep his shot from the resulting free kick on target as it slammed into the boards to the right behind Kasey Keller’s goal.

The US, as expected with Brian McBride as the lone forward, created very little on the ground, electing to play long balls over the top and hope McBride would knock them down to someone.

The US only got its first chance on 17 minutes as Dempsey headed a corner kick on target but right at goal keeper Richard Kingson.

Meanwhile Ghana was doing next to nothing, also playing with a startling lack of purpose, except when a tough tackle was required. It was, then, completely against the run of play that they took the lead on 22 minutes.

Reyna had the ball on the right deep in his own end and tried to dribble out of the back. He apparently did not see Haminu Draman until it was too late. The Ghanaian midfielder ripped the ball from Reyna was in on goal, picking out the far corner to sweep the ball past Keller.

Just like that 1-0.

It was a minute of indecision that is usually reserved for lesser experienced players, not the captain of your national team and to make matters worse, Reyna sprained a knee ligament on the play. He was stretchered off but would return later.

Five minutes later, both teams got the news that they wanted to hear. In Hamburg, Italy had taken a 1-0 lead on the Czech Republic. The winner of the US-Ghana match was going through to the next round.

The Ghanians wanted it to be them as Essien, targeted by Arena as Ghana’s danger man, fed Razak Pimpong with a gorgeous through ball on a counter attack. Pimpong tried to emualte Draman’s finish but pulled his shot wide.

Ghana was starting to win the midfield battle, pressuring the Americans into either giving the ball away or sending it over the top to McBride which was rarely working. The US’ slow play though midfield helped the Black Stars organize their defense.

It wasn’t until the 35′ minute that the over-the-top-to-McBride tactic created a chance as Reyna, now back on the field, launched a ball to McBride who flicked a header into the path of Landon Donovan on the right. However, Donovan who had rarely been accounted for in this game blasted his shot over the bar.

At the 39th minute mark, DaMarcus Beasley, who had been playing well defensively, came alive on offense, slipping a nice through ball to Eddie Lewis on the left side. However, Lewis slipped as he tried to center the ball and it was cleared back through the box without no one else to run onto it.

Things went from bad to worse for the US a minute later as Reyna handed the captain’s armband to Donovan, unable to continue. He was replaced by Ben Olsen, lending credence to a rumoured new injury to John O’Brien.

The US had to find a way back into the match without their captain. Three minutes later they would.

Beasley pressured Boateng into a give away and raced in towards goal from the left. DMB then sent a low centering pass across the box to an on rushing Clint Dempsey.

Dempsey smashed the ball past Kingson and the US had equalized with its first real goal of the tournament. It was a beautiful pass from Beasley and Dempsey’s finish brought the US back into match to the delight of the pro-American crowd.

Dempsey (l) and Onyewu rue another missed chance (AFP)

Dempsey (l) and Onyewu rue another missed chance (AFP)

But the joy was shortlived. In injury time, Carlos Bocanegra under pressured tried to clear a high ball but only managed to re-direct in the air toward the box. Oguchi Onyewu and Pimpong both contested it but Onyewu won the ball.

Pimpong fell in the box as if shot in the back and incredibly, Merk pointed to the spot.

A penalty for that?

Replays showed it to be a truly awful call and it was criticized the world over. Argentina’s Clarin newspaper called the penalty “an invention” and even the anti-American writers of the English website the Guardian all were incredulous that Merk, who, until this tournament, had enjoyed a stellar reputation, would give a penalty for the most innocuous of contact at such an important juncture.

Black Stars captain, Stephen Appiah stepped up and slammed home a well taken penalty and the Black Stars lead was dubiously re-established. 2-1.

A bitter and undeserved blow for the Stars and Stripes who had gotten back into the match without their captain. With word coming that the Czech Republic had just had a player sent off the US needed to respond with a strong second half.

Yet the urgency, the execution and the understanding that was needed to turn this match around would never materilize for the US, encapsuled in plays like Beasley’s failure to make a run towards goal to accept a well intentioned pass from Donovan in the 50th minute.

Or the wasted Donovan free kick in the 52nd minute that was unmet by an unbalanced McBride in the box. The Black Stars launched a beautiful counter attack after Essien stopped a Beasley run and eventually set up Matthew Amoah for a 25 yard strike that forced a diving save from Keller.

It took 61 minutes and some prodding from the crowd for Arena to bring Eddie Johnson off the bench and go with two forwards to chase a goal. The US began mounting a consistent, if predicatable attack.

It started in the 66th minute when Eddie Lewis got the ball on the left, made a move on his defender and centered the ball. McBride absolutely laid out for the ball at the near post but his header smacked hard off the post and was momentarily cleared.

The ball was cleared back to the right but Kingson was able to clear the next cross in. Two mintues later Onyewu had a chance to tie but his headed effort from a right sided corner kick was 3 inches over the bar.

For their part, the Ghanians were playing an intelligent if cynical second half. They sat back and protected their lead, withstanding the US pressure while making some credible forays into the US’ end to maintain some possession.

However they won few friends by going down and faking injuries that would delay the game and disrupt the rhythm of the Americans. Pimpong, the man who faked the foul for the penalty was especially guilty of this shameful play acting, adding more credence to the propostion that Merk got the penalty call completely wrong.

The introduction of Bobby Convey to the US attack (as opposed to another forward) did not have the desired effect. The US simply was not playing to their potential, something they absolutely needed to do get out of this Group of Death.

This was illustrated by the free kick won by Convey on the left side that was taken by Landon Donovan and sent into the photographer’s row behind the goal. A sinful waste of an opportunity.

The Ghanaians continued to soak up the pressure and with the US needing a miracle but unable to locate either Teddy Sheringham or Ole Gunnar Solskaer to get the two goals they needed, they meekly bowed out of the tournament having scored just one goal.

Yes, the Ghanaians were absolutely shameful with their injury faking.

But the US did not get it done at “winnin’ time”.

From coaching, to effort on the field, to poor performances from relied upon players, the US regressed 10 years with its play at this year’s World Cup.

Unlike the Super Bowl or the “World” Series, or the NBA Finals this sport’s biggest stage comes once every 4 years and you have be prepared both tatically, emotionally and skill wise when it comes.

The US was none of those things. This is why the US is going home and why I and other US soccer fans are so very disappointed today.