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
June 17, 2014, 12:49 pm
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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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