NATAL, Brazil — If Clint Dempsey wasn’t a soccer player, he probably would be playing hockey,
He is one tough and talented dude.
Fortunately for the U.S. national team, he was playing soccer Monday night.
Not only did he score the USA’s first goal in a 2-1 win over Ghana in its World Cup opening match Monday, the Sounders FC forward returned later on from a probable broken nose.
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The dramatic win, thanks to John Brooks’ first international goal in the 86th minute, put the Americans in a position to reach the second round with games against Portugal (Sunday) and Germany (June 26) looming over the horizon.
“It’s a huge three points,” said Dempsey, who was named man of the match. “We grinded it out. It wasn’t our best game, but we showed a lot of character.
“Everybody played their hearts out.”
And that included Dempsey, who became the first USA player to score in three World Cups.
He was knocked out of the game for two minutes with a probable broken nose after John Boye smashed him in the face with a high kick in the 33rd minute. No yellow card was assessed.
Dempsey said he went “as long as I could. I had trouble breathing. I coughed up blood.
“I felt fine and I kept going. I got a little tired. Hopefully I will be able to start breathing through my nose again before the next game.”
Vice President Joe Biden joined 39,760 spectators – there reportedly were 20,000 USA fans – to watch an entertaining and physical match.
Only 29 seconds after kickoff, Dempsey gave the enthusiastic American fans something to cheer about.
DaMarcus Beasley started the scoring sequence with a throw-in to Dempsey, who returned the ball to the left back. Beasley passed to Jermaine Jones who sent the ball to Dempsey, who faked out Boye in the penalty area and launched a left-footed shot from 7 yards that bounded off the far right post past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
It was the earliest USA World Cup goal in history and the fifth-earliest goal in Cup history.
“Jermaine Jones sent a good ball in,” Dempsey said. “I cut back on the defender. Once I cut back, I saw some space. I just tried to hit it as hard as I could at the far post, and it went in.”
Ghana just about laid siege to the U.S. goal for most of the second half and managed to connect for the equalizer in the 82nd minute on an Andre Ayew goal past goalkeeper Tim Howard at the near left post.
“To get the goal a little bit early in the game caused us to be more on the defensive,” Dempsey said. “I thought they played pretty well. I think we didn’t help ourselves at times in terms of keeping possession; a credit to our game to keep fighting.
“I was still convinced we were going to win the game after the equalizer,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I thought another two or three opportunities would come.”
Klinsmann was right.
The winner was scored via a pair of second-half substitutes. Graham Zusi, who replaced Alejandro Bedoya, floated in a corner kick to defender Brooks, who took over for center back Matt Besler at halftime.
“It’s a great moment for me,” Brooks said. “Unbelievable. I had a dream (two days ago). I told some teammates I dreamed I scored in the 80th minute and we win the game. And now it was the 86th minute and we won.”
Now Dempsey and his American teammates can dream about more World Cup glory and a shot at the second round.