Rea: Monday’s outcomes give U.S. soccer team a shot at shocking the world _lowres

Associated Press photo by Ricardo Mazalan -- U.S. forward Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring just 29 seconds into the match against Ghana during Group G play at the World Cup on Monday in Natal, Brazil. The U.S. won 2-1.

Wow. We will take that.

Timing is so important. And Monday, the United States had arguably its best eight hours ever at the World Cup.

The fifth-fastest goal in the tournament’s history gave the Americans a lightning start, while a strike just three minutes from the end sealed the 2-1 win against Ghana.

An enthralling encounter bookended with U.S. goals was a dream start to the quest for global soccer glory, and maybe — just maybe — the Americans have announced that they are here to stay on the world stage.

But let’s not forget the importance of the other contest in the group Monday. Germany’s 4-0 demolition of Portugal also is vitally important if Uncle Sam’s Army is to shock the world and escape the Group of Death to make it to the knockout stage.

The States are unaccustomed to playing the role of underdog in the eyes of the world, but Monday’s was a gritty, dogged, backs-to-the-wall performance to be proud of. For long periods of the match, Ghana was in control, and its 21 shots were the most by any country at the tournament so far. But for more than 80 minutes, the Americans stood strong, weathered the storm and looked dangerous on their few counter-attacks.

But as so often happens, the dam eventually was breached. When Ghana finally tied it, I admit that I feared the worst.

You sensed the Americans wilting, and you could see the energy seeping from them as they looked tired and spent. It appeared their organization and resolve dissipated and, as Ghana tightened the screws in the closing minutes, I could only see one winner.

But that’s why they call it the beautiful game. On a corner kick, up popped John Brooks — a player few soccer fans have even heard of — and the German-born defender made himself an all-American hero. It’s only the third time in the past 12 World Cup matches that the U.S. team has scored more than one goal. And how crucial it was.

We know that if you win your first game, you have a tremendous shot of making the Round of 16. And if the Americans knock out Portugal, ranked the fourth-best nation on Earth, it would be a soccer shot heard ’round the world. Right now, they are in pole position.

But it’s early yet, and we are only a third of the way through the first round. Let’s enjoy the win and revel in the performance, but there is a lot of soccer to be played before the Americans can book their hotel in the next city.

But with Monday’s hard-earned victory, all the pressure shifts to Portugal. The onus is on the Portuguese to defeat the States on Sunday and, after their heavy loss to the Germans, they will have to go on the attack. A boring, drab, uninspiring and uneventful goalless tie would be just perfect.

Timing. It’s all about timing. And the time has come for the Americans to prove they are a global soccer force to be reckoned with.

Stephen Rea is the author of “Finn McCool’s Football Club: The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Pub Soccer Team in the City of the Dead,” a book about a pub soccer team and Hurricane Katrina centered around a Mid-City Irish bar. He is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, but has lived in New Orleans for a decade. He will be contributing stories to The Advocate throughout the World Cup.