An early Clint Dempsey goal immediately changed the complexion of the match. The Seattle Sounder FC forward’s goal in the first minute allowed the U.S. the opportunity to absorb pressure from Ghana.
The Yanks lined up at the kick in a 4-4-2 but their formation morphed into a much different shape in the same set-up. Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman dropped back to help provide coverage for Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler while the fullbacks surged forward to help the attack.
A Jozy Altidore injury midway through the first half forced Jurgen Klinsmann to make an early change and bring on Aron Johansson in his World Cup debut. If the injury would have happened in the second half, Klinsmann would have the tactical flexibility to bring on a midfielder or defender. However, since the U.S. was being pinned back and had most of the game to play, he needed to bring on a forward to make his formation work.
Johansson is not a target man, however, so the United States shifted to more of a traditional 4-4-2 with Dempsey dropping back a few steps but still playing mostly even with Johansson.
Even worse, Besler pulled up with a hamstring injury that required a halftime substitution. On came John Brooks who had the World Cup as his first cap. The U.S. did not adjust their formation and Ghana exploited space in the midfield to put pressure on them.
With Bradley being pulled back to cover the inexperienced centre-backs, that took a creative presence from the U.S. attack and made him into deep-lying playmaker with no central midfielder to create possession and chances for the Yanks.
Ghana was allowed the majority of the possession, finishing with over 60 per cent of the ball. Beginning in a 4-2-3-1, Ghana played a high line and forced the U.S. to try and beat them deep. This allowed them to pressurise the U.S. defense but poor finishing and bad passing in the final third prevented them from scoring what seemed like inevitable goals.
That goal came in the 82nd minute when Ghana split the centre-backs with a give-and-go and Andre Ayew put the shot by an off-balance Tim Howard.
Minutes later the one area where the United States developed the most in the lead-up to the World Cup broke the tie. Graham Zusi’s corner found the head of Brooks to push it past Adam Kwarasey. The U.S. had found success previously on set pieces under Klinsmann and did so again in this match.
When the final whistle blew, the United States was lucky to escape, as Ghana had 20 shots but only three on target. The Yanks’ tactics help preserve an inexperienced backline but could have ultimately lost the game for the U.S.