NATAL, Brazil — After Clint Dempsey's historic early goal, the United States spent more than an hour struggling to hold off wave after wave of Ghana attacks. It was no surprise when Ghana tied the score in the 82nd minute.
Once again, the Black Stars — who eliminated the Americans from the previous two World Cups — were poised to ruin the tournament for the U.S. team on Monday.
With two starters out injured, the Americans barely threatened in the second half until a corner kick in the 86th minute.
Graham Zusi lifted the ball into the penalty area, where fellow substitute John Brooks rose above the defense and headed in the deciding goal in a 2-1 victory in the first U.S. game of this World Cup, giving the Americans a good start in Group G, a k a the "Group of Death."
"I couldn't believe it. … I just ran in the box and hoped that the ball would hit my head and it did," said Brooks, a 6-foot-4 central defender brought forward for set pieces.
Brooks, a Berlin native eligible to play for the Yanks because of his U.S. serviceman father, made only his fifth appearance for the national team. He visibly went through a range of emotions after scoring his first goal in a U.S. jersey.
"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."
The loss put Ghana at the bottom of Group G with Portugal — the Americans' next opponent. The top two teams in the group advance to the knockout phase.
At the final whistle, coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the German hired to transform the U.S. from mere World Cup participant into a potential power, threw his arms to the sky and roared.
"The U.S. team always has great spirit," Klinsmann said. "I said it to the bench minutes before: We're going to get some chances still. So we are still in the game after the equalizer, we just need to kind of push and push and grind it out. That's what they did. … And (Brooks) puts it in, so well deserved."
U.S. striker Jozy Altidore left with an apparent left hamstring injury in the 21st minute and his status for the rest of the tournament wasn't immediately known. Dempsey had his nose broken with a knee to the face and Matt Besler also left injured, to be replaced by Brooks.
Dempsey's goal made him the first U.S. player to score in three different World Cups and ranked as the fifth-quickest goal in World Cup history.
And Brooks' winner rescued the Americans just when they likely would have been happy to escape with a tie.
Ghana, which tied it on Andre Ayew's goal, was still pressing when Brooks scored. The 21-year-old who plays for Hertha Berlin in Germany's league, the Bundesliga, appeared shocked. He raised his hands to his head before falling to the ground to be mobbed by his teammates.
"It's a special moment for the boy, he did well," Klinsmann said.