Ghana's Sulley Muntari, right, is fouled by United States' Jermaine Jones during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Fuzzy numbers, Klinsmann, and Captain Clint: Talking points after the U.S.’s win over Ghana

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For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. has won its World Cup opener. In the process, the team vanquished a nemesis, saw its fitness pushed to the limit, and flashed many of the qualities Jurgen Klinsmann’s been trying to instill since he took over three years ago.

Here are six talking points from the team’s 2-1 win over Ghana:

1. Black Stars burn out – Nemesis. Bogey team. Possessors of the United States’s figurative number. Put all that in the past tense, because the U.S. has exorcised that demon, leaving it to wilt in the humidity of Natal.

For much of the second half, the victory looked like it may be an unconvincing one, with the U.S. holding on as its defense failed to adjust to the loss of Matt Besler. Ultimately, winning a game that was only even for five minutes, the Americans can characterize their victory in a different way. When they needed to score goals, they did so quickly, and decisively. Otherwise, despite ceding the Black Stars 62 percent possession, they limited their opponents to three shots on goal (the U.S. had four).

It’s not the most a convincing narrative, but it’s a winning one. Nobody ever expected the U.S. to roll over the Ghanaians.

[ MORE: Brooks wins it late | Man of the Match | Injury update ]

2. Pay attention to the numbers, but then don’t – From a distance, it’s concerning that the possession and shots numbers were so lopsided, but when one team goes up in the first minute, that can happen, especially when the other spends an hour giving them little disincentive to change. Had Ghana been more effective before its second half surge, Klinsmann might have adjusted.

So don’t read too much into the disparities, and don’t listen to too many conclusions drawn from them. Goals change matches, and in this one, Dempsey’s opener meant the United States could leverage the team’s new formation to keep play on the edges. By the time the Ghanaians made them pay, the U.S. could go into late-match mode.

Let’s see some more 0-0 soccer before drawing any conclusions. The U.S. may not have looked great, but there’s a reason why the numbers flattered Ghana. Whenever somebody scored in the first minute, the game could be develop into a weird one.

3. In terms of the group dynamics, this win is huge … – Draw-draw, and the U.S. is going through. A win over Portugal in Manaus, and we’re probably looking at the same outcome, and if you factor in other teams’ potential outcomes, the U.S. may be favorites to get out of their group. They’re not as talented as the Seleccao, but they have more outs.

To the extent the U.S. has that advantage, it’s probably not by much, but it goes to show how things can change over a few World Cup hours. The day started with the States in an uncertain place as it faced down a nemesis. It ends with the team tied atop its group.

source: Getty Images
Jurgen Klinsmann smiles off to victory and embraces his players after the U.S. defeated Ghana in Natal.

4. … but the fitness – wasn’t this supposed to be a strength? – U.S. fans celebrated their fortune when Pepe drew a red card and Fabio Coentrão suffered his own muscle injury against Germany, but after their team’s win, those fans had reason to empathize with their Portuguese counterparts. Jozy Altidore’s hamstring gave way early, Matt Besler had to be taken out at halftime (also, hamstring), while Clint Dempsey appeared to suffer a broken nose. The U.S. had own set of walking wounded.

Perhaps more worrying were the images of players like Alejandro Bedoya and Geoff Cameron stretching during breaks over the last half hour. Much like England appeared to cramp up more readily than Italy on Saturday in Manaus, another team that gave up the ball found itself drained.

Fitness is supposed to be a strength of the U.S. squad, but the team’s preparations proved little match for the conditions in Natal.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

5. Jurgen pays off – Klinsmann is the most scrutinized head coach in U.S. Men’s National Team history, and with good reason. He’s trying to reinvent a wheel, one that a lot of people helped build. You can’t claim something’s awry without indicting the people who built it.

Tonight in Natal, however, some of the innovations he’s emphasized paid off, big time. The mentality he forced upon the team by seemingly introducing adversity paid off, particularly when Altidore and Besler went down. After Aron Johannsson and John Brooks came on, the expanded player pool he’s built paid dividends, and when Brooks headed home the winner, the team’s resilience was again on display.

Add tactical flexibility to the pile, but it’s important to note Klinsmann didn’t invent any of these things. He simply enforced them on a program that may have been limiting itself. Where as the U.S. men’s team may have been type-cast as one thing, Klinsmann has challenged it to be another.

If Sunil Gulati wanted a revolution, he may have just seen his general win his first major battle.

6. Captain. Clint. Dempsey. – First minute goal. Broken nose. An hour of mouth-breathing. Finishing a match where, because of other injuries, he was not going to be subbed off.

U.S. fans: Is there something else you want from your captain? Because Clint Dempsey just may provide. Celebrating a goal in his third straight World Cup, “Deuce” played to his armband tonight.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports