East Hartford, CT. No Dempsey, no Pulisic, no Bradley, no Howard, no problem. With the Gold Cup right around the corner, the USMNT had one tune-up chance with a lot of inexperienced international players on their roster.
Head Coach Bruce Arena wanted the opportunity to see what sort of quality depth he could have heading into the 2018 World Cup. On Saturday he got to see some good things versus a quality opponent in Ghana.
First and foremost, the match started with a heavy-hearted United States audience remembering one of the most influential people in US Women Soccer history, Tony DiCicco. Tony had passed June 19th this year. In addition to coaching the USWNT to their dramatic World Cup victory over China in 1999, he was a one time USMNT player (1973), and soccer TV commentator.
In front of a crowd of 28,754 rowdy soccer fans at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, the United States rolled out seven players with zero Gold Cup experience. Two players were making their USMNT debuts (Dom Dwyer and Kelyn Rowe). Dom Dwyer was a big story heading into this match. Many an “expert” picked the young man, who had just received citizenship at the beginning of 2017, to really step up and take advantage of such a unique opportunity.
It didn’t take him very long to do so. About 18 minutes to be exact.
The moment was set up for Dwyer by teammate Jorge Villafana’s pressure of the ball on a Ghana defender attempting to clear the ball away from Americans. Unfortunately for Ghana, they would have no such luck. Villafana would force a turnover and play the ball to the middle of the field for teammate Joe Corona. As Villafana continued to run, he would end up deflecting a shot from Corona that would set up Dom Dwyer for a close range strike and a 1-0 USA lead. This was an absolute dream start, not only for the US but also for Dwyer’s International career on the USMNT.
The chances were limited on the Ghana side in the first half as the US controlled a majority of the possession and seemed to be doing pretty well in terms of cohesion as the half went on. However, with the first half in stoppage time, Ghana would receive a major scoring opportunity when Jorge Villafana slipped up. He committed a foul in the box and received a yellow card for pulling down Frank Acheampong in order to prevent a scoring chance.
Asamoah Gyan, one of the most experienced players on the Ghana side, would receive the penalty kick and a chance for the equalizer. But keeper Brad Guzan would have other ideas as he absolutely stoned Gyan trying to strike towards to the right post. The US lead was secure at 1-0 heading to the half.
As the second half opened, the Americans wouldn’t waste much time with their second tally of the day. At the 52-minute mark it was first-time Gold Cupper, Kellyn Acosta. Acosta was positioned on the left side of the box for a free kick and had negotiated around a seven-man wall. The young man not only negotiated that Ghana wall, he obliterated it and stunned the Ghana keeper, Richard Ofori, who never saw it coming.
Revenge seemed to be on mind of Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan. After missing a huge opportunity on the first-half PK he needed to redeem himself. Well, wouldn’t you know it, just 8 minutes later the veteran got one back on a free kick. He would rip a shot top shelf where mama hides the cookies that blasted by Guzan to cut the Americans lead in half at 2-1.
Another USMNT member to make his debut on Saturday was Kenny Saief. Saief came on as a substitute in the second half. He was fortune to be allowed to play in this match. He was approved for his one-time switch of international allegiance just two days prior to the match.
There would be a few more chances for both sides in this one but nothing overly threatening. Much like it’s been between USA and Ghana, the final result ended 2-1 US.
Bruce Arena seemed to be happy that his squad rose to the challenge of facing a tough Ghana team. He mentioned:
“It was good to get experience. As the game went on, the continuity got better”.
As far as the veteran captain for the US squad goes, Guzan said, “This was a good test for us.” Another sentiment that was echoed amongst most of the younger players after the match was that communication would be key and the ability to avoid breakdowns moving forward in the Gold Cup.
The US begins its Gold Cup journey on July 8th vs. Panama.