LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Here's something American soccer fans haven't heard much over the years - the U.S. is looking good at the World Cup. Last night in Brazil, the men's national soccer team won its first match of the tournament, a 2 to 1 victory over a fast and physical team from Ghana. It was a bit of revenge for the Americans - Ghana knocked them out of the last two World Cups, but not this time. Thanks to strong defense and two dramatic goals, the U.S. shares the lead in its very difficult opening-round group. From Natal, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: OK, so you're a 21-year-old soccer player and you've never played in a World Cup and your coach comes to you at halftime of a really big World Cup game and says you're in. So you go in the game and score the winning goal with mere minute left. Just like John Brooks pictured it, right? Actually, yeah.
JOHN BROOKS: I had a dream, I told some teammates that I dreamed that I scored in the 80th minute and we win the game, and now it was the 86th minute and we won.
GOLDMAN: The dream two nights ago even had Brooks heading in a corner kick - come on.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GOLDMAN: Last night, the 6'4'' Brooks took a corner kick from teammate Graham Zusi, bounced the ball once into the Ghana goal and into U.S. soccer lore. He became the first substitute to score for the U.S. in a World Cup ever. And he pretty much saved the American's bacon. A few minutes before his 86th minute miracle, a relentless all game long attack by Ghana finally paid off with a tying goal. The difference between a tie and a win is one point instead of three. Every point counts as teams try to finish in the top two in their group so they can move on in the tournament. After Ghana's equalizer, one could understand the Americans getting down or desperate, but they got neither, a fact that impressed veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard.
TIM HOWARD: That just goes back to maturity, you know, guys not losing their head and trying to do too much and drilling 80 yards and trying to get a goal. You know, everyone just kind of played within themselves.
GOLDMAN: We fight till the last second, a proud U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. They didn't do too badly in the first seconds either. Team captain Clint Dempsey scored after only 30 ticks on the game clock - a stunner for the largely American crowd and Natal's Arena das Dunas. A good stunner, as opposed to the bad stunner midway through the first half when U.S. striker Jozy Altidore grabbed the back of his left leg and was carried off on a stretcher.
JOZY ALTIDORE: It was tough for me. I was crushed, you know, because I knew right away I couldn't continue so that was probably the worst feeling. But like I said, it's more about the team and I think the guys will take a lot of confidence from this game.
GOLDMAN: Altidore was diagnosed with a hamstring strain. His availability for this World Cup is in question, potentially a significant loss of a significant goalscorer. An unlikely 21-year-old goal scorer emerged last night. Can the U.S. count on more moments like the one John Brooks and Graham Zusi provided? We shall see. Adam Crocker from New York City left the stadium last night buoyed by what he saw.
ADAM CROCKER: Little things here and there were starting to actually look like we belong - and so it's exciting. I think we're really going in the right direction.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: We want Portugal. We want Portugal.
GOLDMAN: And Portugal the U.S. will get, a Portuguese team that's limping into Sunday's match against the U.S. with injuries and psychic pain after getting bopped by Germany 4 - nil yesterday. With a win, the U.S. could pretty much stamp its ticket out of the so-called group of death, something many said was a long shot at best. American fans are starting to dream - hey, it worked for John Brooks. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Natal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.