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.

[nbcsports_video src=http://player.ooyala.com/player.js?deepLinkEmbedCode=c0MXNibjqqsTgyBrIPMRlqHaMtjgPqeh&externalId=intl%3A1887575&width=576&video_pcode=B4a3E63GKeEtO92XK7NI067ak980&embedCode=c0MXNibjqqsTgyBrIPMRlqHaMtjgPqeh&height=324&pcode=B4a3E63GKeEtO92XK7NI067ak980 width=620]

 

 

 

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).