At halftime: Dempsey’s early opener has U.S. in front of Ghana — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: The fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history puts the U.S. in front, allowing them to play the first 45 minutes on their terms. Ghana goes 24 minutes without a shot and reach intermission drawing only one save from Tim Howard, leaving head coach Kwesi Appiah in search of second half solutions. Performing exactly as they would have draw it up, the U.S. takes a 1-0 win into halftime in Natal, Brazil.

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Goals:

1′ – That Ghana defense that was supposed to be so mistake-prone? Twenty-nine seconds in, bingo. After a throw-in along the left, Clint Dempsey’s given a chance to go one-on-one against John Boye. After cutting inside of the Ghanaian central defender, Dempsey’s left-footed finish finds the lower right-hand corner, giving the U.S. its earliest goal in World Cup history.

Other key moments:

19′ – As Ghana gets too narrow, Fabian Johnson gets forward on the right, where he’s fed a ball just outside the Ghana penalty area. Hesitating so he can assess the play, the U.S. right back plays a ball behind the Ghana line, allowing Jozy Altidore to turn on a shot from nine yards out. Only a block in front of Adam Kwarasey keeps the U.S. from doubling its lead.

21′ – Altidore’s hamstring goes. Chasing a long ball down the left from Michael Bradley, the U.S. number nine pulls up, grabs his left hamstring, and falls to the ground. There’s no doubt about it – he’s done. Twenty-one minutes into the tournament, Altidore’s World Cup may be done.

30′ – Surging forward from his defensive midfield position, Mohammed Raibu gets his elbow high during an aerial challenge at the edge of the U.S. penalty area. As Kyle Beckerman recovers on the ground, Jonas Eriksson goes to his pocket. The yellow card means Ghana’s midfield stopper will have to be careful.

32′ – Ghana generates its first good chance. Cutting from left-to-right across the top of the penalty area, Asamoah Gyan gets around Bradley to nail a shot toward Tim Howard’s lower-left corner. A diving stop sees the U.S. number one steer the shot wide.

33′ – The last thing the U.S. needs after seeing Altidore go down? An injury to its other starting forward, but when Jonathan Mensah’s left leg gets high during an aerial challenge, Dempsey’s left with a bloodied nose. After two minutes on the ground, Dempsey leaves to get treatment on the sidelines, alleviating concerns the U.S. would have to burn another sub.

45+5′ – Ghana finally gets another chance, but a ball played in from the right by Christian Atsu sees André Ayew scuff a shot from 12 yards out. Geoff Cameron easily clears moments before the halftime whistle.

Also of note: Toward the end of the half, Matt Belser was shown periodically grabbing his right hamstring, leaving the U.S. with another major injury concern.

Lineups:

Ghana: Kwarasey; Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu, Atsu, Muntari, J. Ayew; Gyan, A. Ayew

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

Key players:

  • Aron Johannsson, United States – Ghana’s going to keep controlling possession, meaning the U.S. needs somebody to run down those Bradley long balls. That wasn’t supposed to be the 23-year-old, but in place of Altidore, Johannsson will have to step up.
  • DaMarcus Beasley, United States – Leaning to the right when attacking, Ghana has been intent on testing Beasley’s flank. So far, so good, partially because Appiah has opted for speed (Christian Atsu) against the 32-year-old American. That’s a game Beasley can play. If Appiah moves Jordan Ayew to the right, Beasley may have a more difficult challenge.
  • Asamoah Gyan, Ghana – The U.S. has managed to stay very compact through the middle, with Geoff Cameron and Besler creating a consistent two-on-one for Gyan. With Jermaine Jones and Beckerman helping Beasley on the left, there isn’t much to be had if the Ghanaian captain goes wide. Whether he gets help (from André Ayew, perhaps) or not, Gyan may have to overcome the odds to pull his team even.
  • Mohammed Rabiu, Ghana – More and more, the United States is playing on the counter, something that’s likely to continue in the second half. As the first line of defense against the U.S.’s transition, can the yellow-carded anchor make it to 90 minutes without having to put his team down a man?

Questions for the second half:

  • Does Ghana have another idea? It’s not only that the Black Stars were second best in everything but ball retention. They were never dangerous. With the U.S. scoring early, the Americans were able to leverage their set up and force Ghana to do something special. With Tim Howard doing such a good job deciding when to bolt off his line, Kwesi Appiah needs to implement Plan B at halftime.
  • Will fitness matter? It’s not the temperature, which is only 79 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s the humidity: 74 percent. Which team is in better shape? Which one expends less energy performing its regular tasks? Which one will adjust to a final 10, 15 minutes that will leave them empty at the final whistle?

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.