Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman may have wanted to play for the US soccer team at World Cup 2014--but it was clear in the Americans opening game against Ghana that US coach Jurgen Klinsmann needed Beckerman as much as Kyle wanted to wear that US shirt.
Beckerman was pivotal on Monday, June 16 in tropical Natal, Brazil, helping the Americans to a 2-1 win over Ghana in Group G, the so-called “Group of Death”--giving the US a much-needed three points going into its next game against Portugal in the Amazonian city of Manaus later this week.
Beckerman patrolled the midfield in a holding role as the Americans came out in a diamond 4-4-2 formation--similar to what Real Salt Lake plays in Major League Soccer. Beckerman played every minute of Monday’s match almost flawlessly, cutting out dangerous passes into the middle of the pitch--as well as reading and snuffing out the swerving, well-struck diagonal balls that Ghanaian attackers sent time and again behind the US back line.
If those duties weren’t enough, Beckerman did all of this while dishing out and absorbing punishing tackles from frustrated Ghanaian players--some from behind--while he also provided a defensive shield behind attacking midfielder Michael Bradley and in front of an untested back line that featured two center backs who had never played in a World Cup.
Considering that Beckerman himself had never played in a World Cup, his performance at his team’s World Cup 2014 opener was even more impressive. Beckerman wasn’t the only one who played well in a game, though. Bradley’s duties were mostly left to providing help to Beckerman on defense.
After getting a dream start and stunning goal 32 seconds into the match from forward Clint Dempsey, the Americans had to endure wave after wave of creative attacks from an African opponent whose hair styles, skintight Puma jerseys and game had just as much flair as the dreadlocks Beckerman sported atop his head as he chased the crafty Ghanaians up and down a rain-soaked but rock-solid pitch.
The bizarre field conditions caused problems for the Americans, who lost at least two players to hamstring pulls--including forward Jozy Altidore and center back Matt Besler--and watched several other players suffer similar knocks at Estadio Das Dunas.
Ghana tied the game in the 82nd minute thanks to clever interplay in its midfield, which led to a back-heeled pass and a one-time blast inside the US penalty box for a goal. But, the US got the last word in and the crucial win, snapping a two-game World Cup skid to the Ghanaians when youngster John Brooks snapped down a header off a US corner kick for the game-winner in the 87th minute.