Local reaction: U.S. resilient, fortunate

By Kevin Wilson
Staff writer
kwilson@cnjonline.com

The United States’ World Cup opener against Ghana was full of shock, excitement, disappointment and exhilaration. And that was just from the people watching the match from eastern New Mexico.

Following the game, we asked a few soccer coaches and enthusiasts their reactions to the Americans’ 2-1 win. Their reactions to individual points varied, but the overall feeling was the team predictably had some trouble with a Ghana team that knocked it out of the 2010 World Cup and rode a pair of unlikely goals to the win.

“I’m really happy we got the win, (I’m feeling) a lot of relief,” said Mike Doerr of Portales. “I think they had to get the three points. Ghana has been our nemesis and has owned us in the World Cup for the last eight years. I thought it was a must-win.”

The U.S. took a shockingly-early 1-0 lead when captain Clint Dempsey scored half a minute into the game. The Americans went most of the game holding off Ghana until Andrew Ayew’s goal in the 82nd minute, then answered with John Brooks heading in a corner kick.

“The second goal was awesome,” Clovis High girls assistant coach Pat O’Leary said of Brooks. “He directed it down, he put it where the goalie couldn’t get it. He did everything right.”

Brooks, 20, also did what no other substitute had accomplished in 30 World Cup games over 84 years for the U.S..

“The first substitute to score for the U.S.,” Portales boys varsity coach Nathan Dodge said. “I was pretty excited; I was jumping around the living room.”

Doerr said he considered Dempsey’s goal, and the way he returned quickly from a kick to the face later in the match, to be the biggest momentum plays.

Greg Trujillo, boys coach at Clovis High, thought the Dempsey goal was a huge boost for a U.S. squad he expected to struggle. Count him among the fans who believed leaving Major League Soccer and U.S. national team career leading scorer Landon Donovan off the team was a mistake.

“When somebody scores that early, it changes the match completely,” Trujillo said. “With all that, for the first half, Ghana maintained possession about 68 percent. When you get a goal, it sets the tone for so many things. I thought Ghana would be more threatening toward the U.S., and really the goal they scored on (U.S. goalkeeper Tim) Howard was a miscue because it looked like he was going the wrong way.”

Still, O’Leary said, it was a goal she kind of expected. She said while she was watching, she saw the U.S. team was having trouble defensively and the equalizer goal was a matter of when and not if.

“To be honest, I felt the USA was lucky,” O’Leary said. “We were outplayed and we were still able to win, and that’s good. Sometimes all you need is luck. We didn’t possess it as much as the other team. I think we played too slow of a game. We don’t move the ball quick enough, we don’t take advantage of openings.”

The United States will play again Sunday against a desperate Portugal team, which is coming off a 4-0 loss to Germany.

“I think it bodes well for us because of Portugal’s injuries,” Doerr said, while adding that central defender Pepe will be suspended for the match after receiving a red card for his head-butt on Germany’s Thomas Muller. “Their defense is going to be weakened, but their talent is going to be far greater than ours.”