Breaking down the play that made the play that lifted the U.S. past Ghana

Breaking down the play that made the play that lifted the U.S. past Ghana

This little touch by Ghana's Jonathan Mensah changed the Americans' fortunes.

By now, we've all seen the goal that made you hug a stranger or tackle a toddler (or was that just me?): John Brooks' improbable header off a Graham Zusi corner kick that sealed three points for the United States against Ghana.

(Brooks and Zusi were two of the Americans' three substitutes, by the way).

But in all that euphoria, it's easy to forget the play that made the play possible. Once you see it, you'll give some credit for the heroics to Americans Aron Johannsson (the third American substitute) and Fabian Johnson. Because of it, if the Americans can at least tie Portugal on Sunday, it would take a Ghanaian or Portuguese miracle to keep them out of the knockout round.

Let's break it down (you can watch the whole play on WatchESPN by clicking here and skipping ahead to the 2 hour, 16 minute mark).

It begins with a seemingly harmless throw-in by Johnson. His options are limited, so he simply tosses it in to Johannsson, who taps it right back to Johnson.

 

Fabian Johnson throws it in to Aron Johannsson.

After surveying the field, Johnson rolls to back to Johannsson and tries to sneak down the sideline for a wide run. Ghana's Sulley Muntari lets Johnson go and turns his attention back to Johannsson, likely assuming No. 20 Asamoah is going to follow Johnson's run.

Johnson (23) streaks toward the box as Johannsson tries to thread the ball forward.

Asamoah turns his head and Johannsson takes that opportunity to feed an ambitious vertical ball, hoping the speedy Johnson can catch up to it.

Now, it's important to remember that Johnson -- the team's right-side defender -- had just completed a run of almost 100 yards about 20 seconds earlier on the play that earned the throw-in for the U.S (see picture below).

This Johnson run, just before the throw-in, started in front of his own goal.

In the oppressive heat and humidity of Natal, no one would have blamed him for giving up on the second run and just letting Johannsson's ball roll out harmlessly. That's not laziness, it's using your head when you know you have nearly 10 minutes left to survive.

But Johnson doesn't give up on the ball and bursts forward with two big strides. This forces Ghana's Jonathan Mensah to defend. Mensah's pressure gives Johnson another excuse to give up on the ball if he wants. The ball is rolling pretty quickly, and clearly is going to go out over the end line.

Johnson still looks like there's no real chance for him to reach the ball before it goes out of bounds.

But Johnson doesn't give up, and Mensah, instead of booting it away for another throw-in, decides to shoulder him off and try to shield the ball across the line without touching it. Johnson never touches the ball, but the force of Mensah's body check (hockey term) causes Mensah to stumble, and his foot touches the ball before it goes over the line.

Mensah intends to just push Johnson away from the ball but it hits his foot instead.

Mensah knows he touched it and instinctively tries to save the ball from going out. When he doesn't, he raises his arm and tries to act like he didn't. The ref and assistant ref do a nice job staying with the ball and making the correct call.

Ghana's Mensah' tries to sell that he never touched the ball, but the ref doesn't buy it.

At the time, it seemed like a harmless play and a pass from Johannsson that was hit just a little too hard.

But without it, Brooks and Zusi never get the chance to be heroes.

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Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NEW ORLEANS -- Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score -- and the title -- on his final dunk.

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

Robinson had one dunk in which he leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slamming it home.

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said. "I think a lot of kids now growing up will improve those perimeter skills just seeing guys like -- I don't want to mention myself, but big guys with perimeter skills that can do it."

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

Earlier on Saturday, Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, and Chris Webber were among the 14 finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Others include NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include point guard Tim Hardaway, record-setting high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU national champion Wayland Baptist University.

Enshrinees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. The induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are Sept. 7-9.