Dempsey at the gun, Brooks at the death deliver victory for the U.S., 2-1 over Ghana

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The fastest goal in the team’s World Cup history looked like it would unrewarded, but thanks late heroics from a halftime substitute, the United States has its first opening game victory since 2002. Heading home a Graham Zusi corner in the 86th minute, 21-year-old John Brooks gave the U.S. a 2-1 win over the Black Stars, exorcising some lingering demons in the process.

The U.S. was eliminated by Ghana from the last two World Cups, with the Black Stars’ 2-1 in extra time at South Africa 2010 sending the nation to its first quarterfinal. On Monday, however, the U.S. led for 85 minutes, with only André Ayew’s 82nd minute equalizer giving the four-time African champions hope of salvaging a result.

That equalizer came after Clint Dempsey set a U.S. record 34 seconds in, finishing from just outside the six-yard box to give his team an early 1-0 lead. Four minutes before the end of regulation time, Brooks restored the U.S.’s advantage, giving the team its first perfect start since defeating Portugal at World Cup 2002.

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With Germany defeating the Seleccao earlier on Monday, the U.S. moves into a tie atop Group G, labeled by many as Brazil 2014’s Group of Death. Goal difference gives the favored Germans the edge among the two perfect teams, but with a hobbled Portugal up next, the U.S.’s win over Ghana represents a huge step toward securing a spot in the tournament’s final 16.

That match will take place on Sunday in the Amazonian city of Manaus, where conditions should mimic the 78 percent humidity that slowed the Americans tonight in Natal. Ghana, in the meantime, will face Germany in Fortaleza, with tonight’s loss meaning the Black Stars will in all likelihood need a result from the 2010 semifinalists.

With the first attacking movement of the game, the U.S. were on the board. Pressuring the Ghanaian defense into an early turnover, the U.S.’s quick throw-in from the left gave captain Clint Dempsey a chance to go one-on-one against central defender John Boye. Leaning left before cutting right, Dempsey moved in on goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, who was left to kick in vain at a left-footed shot that found the far corner. After 34 seconds, with the sixth-fastest goal in World Cup history, the U.S. was up, 1-0.

Come the half-hour mark, the game assumed the posture it would take into halftime, with a U.S. defense that congested the middle of the park forcing the Ghanaians to play from high and wide. Sharp reads from Tim Howard stifled attempts to pass through the defense, while the Black Stars had no luck getting behind fullbacks DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson. Come halftime, the U.S. had retained its 1-0 lead, with both teams registering one shot on target.

Along the way, however, the U.S. lost starting striker Jozy Altidore to injury, with the Sunderland forward replaced by Aron Johannsson after going down with a left hamstring injury in the 21st minute. In the middle of the half, a leg to the face of Dempsey from Ghanaian defender Jonathan Mensah left the team’s captain with a bloody nose, while another hamstring problem, this time afflicting defender Matt Besler, saw Brooks come on at halftime. By the 46th minute, Jürgen Klinsmann had used two of his substitutions.

source: AP
United States’ Clint Dempsey leaps as he celebrates after scoring the opening goal  between Ghana and the United States. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Despite the changes, the second half began as the first ended, with Ghana left to probe the edges to the U.S. defense, with their sequences usually ending with a ball rolled to Howard. Ten minutes into the half, a long-range shot from Sulley Muntari and an open header for Asamoah Gyan gave the U.S. its first scare, with a 17-yard header from Gyan two minutes later drawing a diving save from Howard.

By the time Ghana’s captain forced a 64th minute block from Geoff Cameron, the effects of Besler’s loss were clear. The U.S. defense, particularly after the introduction of Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, had lost control.

In the 82nd minute, Ghana’s work paid off when Gyan dragged Cameron away from goal to create a chance for Ayew. Laying the ball off for the Marseille attacker, Gyan created space between the U.S. center backs for the one-time shot, with Howard beat inside his right post for the late equalizer.

Four minutes later, the U.S. had restored its lead, with two substitutes delivering victory in the sauna of Natal. Off a corner from the right, Graham Zusi’s out-swinging ball found Brooks at the edge of the six-yard box, with the Hertha Berlin defender heading down and into the Ghanaian goal to deliver full points.

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When the ball reached the back of Kwarasey’s net, the fight left the Ghanaians. Lifted to its crest four minutes earlier, the team that’d vanquished the Americans in Nuremberg and Rustenburg had seen the tables turn, with a U.S. side they’d expected to beat landing the final blow. Not only was Ghana’s mastery of the Americans over, but the Black Stars had lost suffered a major blow to their knockout round hopes.

The U.S., on the other hand, sit even with Germany at the top, and although Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal await, the players can take a moment to savor a moment their predecessors could not. A nemesis has been fallen, and in the process, the U.S. may have laid the groundwork to improve on its 2006 and 2010 results.

Lineups:

Ghana: Kwarasey; Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu (Essien 71′), Atsu (Adomah 78′), Muntari, J. Ayew (Boateng 59′); Gyan, A. Ayew

Goals: A. Ayew 82′

United States: Howard, Johnson, Cameron, Besler (Brooks 46′), Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya (Zusi 77′), Dempsey, Altidore (Johannsson 23′)

Goals: Dempsey 1′, Brooks 86′

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.